A Potential Disaster in the Emergency Room

In the Emergency Room, you see patients that come and go for whatever specific complaint they may be having. Often, it is a rush of adrenaline for those circumstances where life-saving measures are taken. Sometimes, the adrenaline comes because of the serious and unexpected nature of the injury. But there are a lot of dull times as well with minimal serious cases. Both have their good and bad things with them.

One area of the Emergency Room that is often forgotten is those select patients that come back over and over again. In fact, oftentimes, they enjoy the ER quite a bit. This could be for a variety of reasons including having a place to stay, getting out of the cold temperatures, social interaction, someone caring for them, significant medical problems, a large number of medical problems, and many more.

These types of patients are seen more often than you would expect. For example, the staff might see the same patient five or six times in a month, or even five or six times in a week. They often have similar complaints each time they come to the ER, but sometimes they shake it up to see what happens. We can expect to see these patients when it gets too hot or cold, or when earthquakes or other disasters happen. When these patients step foot into the hospital, typically one of two things happens. Everyone groans or everyone cheers.

The weird thing that happens, is that these patients almost become part of the ER family – both a good and bad thing. You almost come to expect them and miss them when you haven’t seen them for a few months. After six months, oftentimes, you start worrying about the worst possibilities, and even sometimes you find that the individual passed away or moved and won’t be coming back to the ER.

My story deals with one such individual. He was a drifter and loved to come to our Emergency Room, especially in the winter. He was homeless and traveled to our warm climate during the winter to get away from the snow and cold temperatures. He was in his sixties and had several health issues. The weather at this time of the year, in our area of the country, was downright cold. Everyone around us was complaining. The man arrived at the hospital around nine at night complaining of cough and pneumonia. I know he was hoping that we would keep him through the night running tests to check for pneumonia and such.

This man is one of the kindest persons I know, in most cases. It is important to understand that he had some significant mental health issues. The worst part was his paranoia. He always thought someone from the government was out to get him. Because of this, if he thought you were with the government, he would almost be hostile towards you. It was pointless to argue with him. But, if you weren’t working for the government and even expressed similar sentiments with him, he was your best friend. He had been coming to our ER for the last four years. Everyone knew Mr. Davies well and was happy to see him.

The thing about Mr. Davies is that he remembered everyone’s names and often personal information he overheard or learned over the years. He would come in and ask about my husband and three kids. He had a memory like an elephant when he was sober.  That’s the thing though, to escape the paranoia, and because he was an alcoholic, Mr. Davies loved to drink. In fact, when he came into the ER he carried two bottles with him. He was hoping we would give him a room for a few hours and let him drink. We confiscated the alcohol until he was discharged. You hate to contribute to his decisions but at the same time, he didn’t bother anyone.

In the exam room, I saw him, and he was as polite as can be. He answered all the questions. He did have a cough and a slight temperature. He said he had felt sick for weeks. Granted – he’d been in the ER twice last week, but nothing was found. This time, he promised me that things had gotten worse. I might have joked about the weather was the only thing that had gotten worse.

That night, we were busy. Mr. Davies wasn’t the only one who came in late at night. We had a few car crashes and over six people involved. We had some chest pains, broken legs and arms, and a numerous other things. The Doctor saw Mr. Davies and ordered a chest X-ray. The problem was that there were a dozen people in line for the X-ray machine before Mr. Davies. But he had no problem resting his eyes and keeping warm.

Around midnight, Mr. Davies finally got his X-ray. The chest X-ray showed a small area that might be pneumonia. It was hard to say. Mr. Davie was starting to shiver a little from the withdrawal. We placed an IV and gave him some medications to help. He still wanted to walk around, and I remember him walking around the halls dragging his IV pole. The doctor decided to get a more specific test on his chest. This was another hour before the test was done.

In the meantime, Mr. Davies needed to smoke. He grabbed his old jean jacket and went outside. When he finished he stepped back inside. He had smoked one and a half cigarettes. This he told me was an improvement. He usually smoked three cigarettes at a time – two dozen times a day. He took the second cigarette and broke off the tip and placed it in his jacket pocket and came back inside. He removed his coat and lay down on his bed waiting for the results.

Twenty minutes later, the results still hadn’t been processed. I was working in a room next to Mr. Davie when I started to smell smoke. I was worried that a piece of equipment was causing a problem or that someone was smoking. I immediately thought of Mr. Davie and assumed that he had probably decided to smoke in his room. Talk about a bad idea. With all the equipment, especially oxygen and some of the other tanks, fire in the ER is a potentially devastating disaster.

I ran into Mr. Davies’ room and found him fast asleep. He certainly wasn’t smoking, but the culprit was easy to find. Mr. Davies’ jacket was on fire. I mean, completely on fire as it hung from a mounted coat rack. The entire bottom half was ablaze. I grabbed an extinguisher and sprayed out the burning coat. It wasn’t hard to assume what had happened. I remembered back to the half cigarette that Mr. Davies had tried to save. I’m convinced that it hadn’t been completely extinguished.

If Mr. Davies’s coat had caught fire in another portion of the hospital, it would’ve been dire results. At least our ER is always busy and things like that aren’t overlooked. To make things better, the final diagnosis was a viral infection and not pneumonia. It was a semi-success of a night.

I’ve seen Mr. Davies a few times since this all happened and he loves that story. He tells everyone he knows, all the new staff, and anyone who will listen. He laughs and jokes for ten minutes or more. Of course, we never allow him to have any cigarettes, a lighter, or Alcohol when he comes in through the ER. He can’t be trusted.




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