7 minute read
*BEEEEEEP!!!!!!!* My pager went off loudly and I was jolted awake. The metal springs inside my thin mattress and I groaned in concert as I turned over to look at the time. *2:00 AM* This page better be good. I called the number back and croaked “Hello?” when an alert voice answered on the other end. It was one of the nurses paging me asking for a small dose of oxycodone for a patient with a headache. I noted that I had already given this patient medications for a headache twice earlier in the evening, and decided to go evaluate him in-case something serious was actually going on. I yanked off my bonnet in annoyance (always keep a bonnet on call! Ha!), swung my legs over the edge of the bed and jumped to the floor.
I was working one of our signature 28 hour shifts, taking care of patients in the intensive care unit (ICU) as well as the step-down unit. “Step-down” patients were patients that were too sick to be on a regular medicine floor, but not quite sick enough to need ICU care.
The patient I had been called about was a 70-something year old black male, Mr. W., with a dark gray beard and a stately look about him despite his frailty. He made weak eye contact with me when I entered the room, allowing light from the hallway to spill irreverently into his previously dark cocoon. He winced and then slowly closed his eyes again.
“Hi, Mr. W,” I whispered, trying not to exacerbate his headache. “I am Dr. Oye, the doctor that’s here overnight. I heard you had a headache?”
“Hello dear,” he responded, as my face crumpled into a small frown. I didn’t like when patient’s called me “dear”, “sweetie”, “honey” or other pet names because I felt that it undermined my position as their physician. I also noted that they never did that to the male residents.
In this particular case, however, I didn’t correct him. He was exactly the type of patient that I felt drawn to: a sweet, older black male that reminded me of Bill Cosby (think Cosby show Bill from 1991, not sex-offender Bill from 2018). He went on to explain to me that he knew why he had a headache, and it was related to hunger.
“Oh you’re hungry?” I interjected. “I can find some snacks around here that will –”
“No, no, no,” He said. “The food in this place is nasty as hell, I’m not eating it anymore.”
“When was the last time you ate?” I asked, noticing how thin his arms were.
As the conversation went on, I learned that he hadn’t had a full meal in 3 days. He opened his eyes for emphasis: “They should just let me take my ass down there and cook my damn self,” he chuckled. “I can guarantee you it would be better than this nasty mess!”
“You gotta eat something,” I said to him softly.
“I’ll eat when the food gets better,” he said, smiled, and turned over in bed. I could tell the conversation was over.
Mr. W was one of those patients that people sometimes referred to as “residents”; he had been admitted for so long, and it was unclear when he was going to be able to leave. He was too weak to go home by himself (he lived alone), and many rehab centers wouldn’t accept him because of his extensive medical needs. During the time that I had been on this rotation, I had not seen any visitors come for him, but one of the nurses mentioned that he had a daughter named LaKeisha.
The next morning, I looked up Mr. W’s chart and found his daughter’s number. I called her and told her that he wasn’t doing too well because he wasn’t eating.
She groaned. “This again? Oh my GOODNESS, this old man is trying to kill me! I haven’t seen him in awhile but I thought he was doing better. Oh boy, I think I’ll need to make a trip into town to check in on him. I’ll be there tomorrow with some food he can’t resist, Doc!” She lived and worked in another state, but decided to fly down and work remotely for a short time.
Over the next few weeks, I got to know the patient and his daughter. She was pretty, smart, and dutiful, with a bubbly laugh that traveled down the hallway. She would come in daily and force her father to eat, bringing him his favorite foods from outside. In the evenings, I would enter his room to find her spoon feeding him macaroni and cheese, barbeque chicken, and collard greens. The two of them would laugh and joke with each other, Motown classics playing softly from her cell-phone speaker. Mr. W was mentally sharp, remembering the details of stories from his young adulthood, telling us how different the country had become over the course of his life time. He would give us short words of fatherly advice on dating and marriage, saying he was the expert because he had loved his wife fiercely until the day she died of breast cancer. “She was pretty as a picture, that lady, even after she lost all the weight, even after the color started to leave the skin on her face. She was something else!”
When the two weeks came to an end, LaKeisha finally had to fly back home for work. Before she left, she asked me to look out for him. “When all else fails,” she winked, “he’ll always eat strawberry jello!”
As the days went by, the hospital social workers kept us abreast of their ongoing conversations with different short term rehabilitation facilities. They were working actively to find him a place to go so he could finally leave the hospital. In the meantime, after his daughter left he was eating more overall, but occasionally asked the nurses to call me so I could help him eat. Remembering his daughter’s words, I would try to find time in my busy day to bring him strawberry jello and listen to a short story of his.
The day finally came when a rehabilitation facility accepted him. I filled out all the necessary paperwork for his transfer, and placed the discharge order. Great! He can finally get out of here, I thought as I went about my day.
I was on rounds with the ICU team when we heard loud noises coming from one of the rooms in the step-down unit. A frustrated nurse then walked quickly down the hallway towards us. “Transport is here for Mr. W and he is refusing to leave because he’s hungry! But he’s also refusing to eat! The transport team can’t wait forever, this man is going to forfeit his spot at the rehab and we’ll be stuck with him!”
“I’ll handle this,” I reassured her, and went to the staff refrigerator to grab a strawberry jello container. Outside of the patient’s room stood a stretcher and the patient transport crew from the rehab center, who told me they had been waiting for 45 min and they really had to go. “Give me 5 more minutes, I promise.”
“Oh hey, sweetie!” Mr. W exclaimed when I walked into the room. I smiled back at him. “They should KNOW better than to send an old man out of here on an empty stomach!”
He was laying in his bed with the head of the bed slightly raised. I moved the table from the side of his bed and took its place, putting myself in close proximity to the patient in order to hand him the jello.
“You just like causing trouble,” I joked as I peeled back the film on top of the jello container and found a clean spoon. “We gotta get you to that rehab, Mr. W, so do you want me to give you some, or will you eat this on your own?”
He looked at me long and hard. In a short instant, a lustful look flashed across his eyes. He then licked his lips slowly, and raised his right hand just quickly enough that I didn’t have time to jump back. His full right palm landed intentionally and fully between my legs, and then he squeezed.
I jumped back, dropping the jello all over the floor and letting out a squeal, then ran from the room. In my shock, my mind again turned to Bill Cosby (think sex-offender Bill from 2018, not Cosby show Bill from 1991).
I was disgusted, disappointed, and frustrated. This was a patient that I had gone above and beyond for, getting to know his family and taking time I didn’t actually have to make sure he ate and was well. The patient decided to take advantage of my kindness and molest me. Before this point, I had never experienced a sense of betrayal by a patient. I guess… I never had expectations of how a patient should behave or act. Somehow, this situation felt sick in a way I found hard to explain. When I reported the incident, people kept asking me if he was delirious, demented, or mentally ill in some way that caused him to touch me. The answer was NO. He was in his right mind, he did what he did deliberately.
I replayed my last words before he grabbed me in my mind. So do you want me to give you some, or will you eat this on your own? I started to blame myself a bit.. Maybe that came off as seductive? Maybe he misinterpreted those words as an invitation? Then I thought, wait WHAT THE HELL! Absolutely not. He’s a DISGUSTING old man and you’re NOT gonna blame yourself for this!
Since this time, a flag has been placed on the patient’s electronic medical record, so any physician, therapist or nurse that works with him in the future knows of his potential. I also took the time to think long and hard about my relationships with patients, how to be kind without getting taken advantage of, how to be safe being in rooms alone with patients as a woman, how to demand respect without being mean. I’m still myself, ofcourse, but I no longer let patients call me pet-names, and I’m a tad less excited and friendly overall. I’ve figured out a better balance now, but as always, I’m still learning.
Until next time,