Saturday, December 22, 2007

From the ER

Last night I picked up a guy from an emergency room who smelled awful. I won't describe the smell, as it'll induce nausea (for me, anyway). A security guard was standing with him near the ambulance dropoff/pickup area to make sure he got into the car. That's a bad sign. Often a regular staff worker or a doc will be with them, and sometimes they're alone. Security usually means trouble. I asked the guard softly if this was a "live one," and he just shrugged and handed me a payment voucher.

The guy's stench was so foul that I had to put all the windows down and replace my usual San Diego baseball cap with a knit cap -- something I don't often do in San Diego. But it was about 60 degrees out, so it was chilly with the windows down. The guy immediately complained that he was freezing, and put his window up. I put it down and locked out the window switches. "You smell too bad for the windows to be up."

I asked him why he was in the hospital, which I always ask. It may be a bit rude, but curiosity always wins out. "I had a seizure, I guess," he said. I asked if he was epileptic, and he said, "No, I'm alcoholic. Whenever I quit drinking I have seizures."

He complained all the way to East Village, which, rather sadly, is our version of LA's Skid Row. There isn't any "dumping" of homeless people around here, as far as I know, but East Village is where most of the charity missions are set up. This guy wanted 10th & B, which has a Del Taco and Burger King on the corner, but no charities.

Later, I was belled to another ER. This guy smelled considerably better than the last one. When I asked where he was going, he said "Dallas, Texas." Most ER people are ... how to say it delicately? ... complete loons. He seemed to fit the bill. After a moment of silence, he gave me a street address in San Diego, in Mission Valley near Qualcomm Stadium.

As I began driving, he explained that he ended up in the ER after going into insulin shock and having a seizure just as he was boarding a plane to Dallas. He said he was going there to take his mother off of a respirator at a hospital. It was time to "let her go," he said. Now he was frustrated because all flights are overbooked for Christmas travel, and his mother would have to wait.

Our conversation was good after we made it over the hump of the mother situation. I could tell he was upset, but calming down somewhat. He lives in central Wyoming on 20,000 acres, and he's in San Diego temporarily, doing some consulting work. I didn't ask what sort of work. When we arrived at his apartment, which he complained about ($2k/mo was a lot of money, he said, for a tiny little place; not at all like Wyoming), he gave me $40 for a $32 fare and said, "Keep it. Merry Christmas." I wished him the same and said I was sorry about his mother.

So here I am whining about my financial situation for two months straight, and I've just met one homeless guy who ends up in an ER when he tries to quit drinking, and one guy with a serious diabetes problem who is unable to fly half way across the country to end his mother's life. The first guy will spend Christmas alone, outside, hoping for a free meal and probably a bottle of cheap wine. The second guy will be spending Christmas alone in a small apartment, far from home, probably thinking about saying goodbye to his mother and burying her next week.

I'm thinking of these ER rides as much needed perspective at Christmas time.

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