Behind Every Door

I’m standing in triage with my patient when I find myself looking at a man standing unsteadily by the entrance to the ER. A security guard has his hand on the man’s upper arm, both holding him up and keeping him from walking away. The guard tells the nurse. “I found him outside. What room does he belong in?”

“I put him in the East Wing about an hour ago,” the nurse says.

I am staring at the man wondering where I know him from. I can’t place him, but I know I know him.

By the computer there is a list of the demographics of recently placed patients. I see a name I recognize and it comes to me. My God. Its Dave Thomas. I grew up with him. He lived just down the street. I played little League baseball with him. Neighborhood basketball. I ran his campaign for student council president.

I watch as the guard leads him back to his room.

I ask the nurse who is taking care of him, what’s his story.

“Him — He’s in here all the time.” She makes a motion of a man downing a bottle.

Every now in this job there is a reality check, and this is one of them. Dave Thomas — what happened? All that promise? What tragedy caused his life to unravel? Or was it preprogrammed in his genes?

You deal with drunks all the time. Each one of them was someone’s child friend, someone who was looked up to, someone with promise.

You just don’t think about that.

***

I get a letter from my college girlfriend and we take up a correspondence. I learn that her husband died of brain cancer five years before. She tells me about the hospital trips, the feeding tubes, and cleaning. It is hard to imagine something like that happening to her, of her having to go through with all the pain and hardship.

I wheel my stretcher down the hall of a hospital floor. In each open door, I see a family member watching a sick relative, a room of balloons and flowers and heartache.

Now she is behind every door.

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