He was a drifter sort of guy. He mentions fishing boats and lumber yards, an estranged wife and grandchildren that he adores, but never gets to see. He is thought to be a problem because he comes to emergency rooms all around town complaining of pain. He skips appointments with his regular doctors, although he can’t name who they are, and comes to the ER needing belly taps. He has chronic end stage liver disease. Yep, from drinking a lot for a long time. From shooting heroin and getting hepatitis.
I met him as a patient in the hospital. A sweet guy, I thought. A drug addict, yes, but sweet, grateful when I sit and talk with him, wanting to follow a plan, willing. But he had no place to live, could not make it to clinic, forgot appointment dates. So he kept going into ER’s asking for pain meds and belly taps. Got a reputation. Frequent flier, the term for it. Narcotic-seeker. I told him to come see me in clinic, I would be happy to give him the narcotics he obviously needed. He came. He also showed up in the ER the next day asking for pain meds. He was having trouble breathing.
I convinced him to go on hospice. He agreed. For a while the hospice nurse met him in the lobby of his friends apartment, where he stayed sometimes. One day, she brought him to the inpatient hospice unit, from there we arranged for a nursing home. One where I know the staff cares about their patients. The hospice nurse and social worker, myself, the nursing home staff became a consistent presence for him, getting to know him. Hospice brought him clothes, his had gotten lost along the way. He ate a lot of popsickles. Sometimes he wanted to talk and we listened. He didn’t ask for much.
But he really wanted to smoke. So we found another nursing home that would let him smoke and moved him in there. Still the same hospice team, still me. He never got a chance to have a smoke, though. He died two days after we moved him there. He never would tell us how to contact his family. He didn’t see his grandchildren again. He had no possessions really.
This guy thanked us, whatever we did for him. He told each of us, that cared for him during those last weeks: “I’ve never been treated so well in my life .” We each felt the same pang, hearing that.
Why does a guy have to die to get treated well? That’s what I want to know.