An ER Doctor’s Humanity
Do you ever wonder what doctors think about their patients who drink or abuse other drugs? There’s an online publication called www.medpagetoday.com that says it’s “PUTTING BREAKING MEDICAL NEWS INTO PRACTICE®.” I get the organization’s email newsletter. It also offers a couple of blogs written by the staff, many of whom are doctors.
Recently one of the blogs by a doctor who calls himself Shadowfax caught my eye. The title of his blog is “Movin’ Meat: The Accidental Blog of a Semi-Accidental ER Doc Living in the Pacific Northwest.” The name of the particular post I read was “Just Another Drunk.”
He wrote about an older homeless alcoholic who ended up in his ER. We never learn the man’s name. Someone had found him passed out in a bush and had called an ambulance. The man, who had been in jail recently, was in the bush in the first place because he’d had too much to drink and couldn’t find his way back to the bridge he lived under. Shadowfax laments the fact that there’s nothing the ER can do for this man, and marvels that he has lived to age 75.
The doctor asks the man if he has any family and waits as he hesitates for a minute and then says no. It’s the hesitation that grabs the doctor’s attention and makes him try to imagine this man’s life and the family he may have had at one time. Did each of his loved ones drop off along the way? Did he once have friends? Then the doctor makes it personal, talking about his own family which includes uncles who were lost to alcoholism and what it did to their families. The doctor is yet another person touched by alcoholism, illustrating once again the reach that this disease has.
Shadowfax was sympathetic to this man’s plight and didn’t judge. But I’ve read that there are some doctors who still judge alcoholics, who think that drinking is a moral failure instead of a brain disease. Hard to believe when they’re in the medical field. But that was before the HBO Addiction series appeared on TV, so let’s hope the doctors who still think that way saw the program and it changed their attitude.
I wonder how many other people have a family member who was homeless at one time or maybe still is. I especially like his last line: “Of all the sad things we see in the ER — and there are plenty — this seems to me to be one of the saddest and least appreciated, and by far among the most common.”