Just as in life, you meet people who you will never forget, the same goes for medicine. Most patients’ names and faces all blur together. Someone will greet you in the shop and you have absolutely no idea who they are until they announce loudly that you once banded their hemorrhoids. There are a few, however, who will stand out, and you will remember them, sometimes for good reasons and sometimes not…
These are a few of my more memorable patients thus far:
1. Crazy Old Hernia Man
So I mostly remember this man because he told me I was a disgrace to doctors and then called me a “f***ing bitch”. Good times! Before you jump to conclusion, let me tell you the whole story. Obviously he is not the most sane man you will ever come across. He has a severe case of bipolar mood disorder, but also does not believe in Western Medicine – not the best combination. As a result of his beliefs, he has a hernia that makes a pregnant lady look like she has wash-board abs, but refuses to have it fixed. He also slips into deep manic episodes because Lithium is “for the heathens”. Well, as you can imagine, his family brought him to the EC manic, and for half an hour, he alternated between asking me when we could have scones and tea together and calling me unconstitutional, amongst other things. Eventually, with a team comprised of myself, a fellow doctor, two security guards and a sister armed with Haloperidol and Ativan we managed to sedate him, but not before he let loose a rather interesting stream of profanities. I will never forget the one thing he said; “I shouldn’t be in this hospital, I should be at home with a beer in my hand”. To which my colleague sighed and replied: “So should we… so should we!”
2. Eye man
This is a really sad one. One evening in EC, a young man came in with a laceration to his left eyelid. When I uncovered his eye to assess the damages, I knew right away that this was bad. Not only was his eyelid cut, but the knife had penetrated his actual eye. I asked him who had stabbed him and he said it was his girlfriend. I referred him to the Opthalmologist and didn’t think about him again until a few days later when I bumped into him in one of the wards. I asked him what the ophthalmologist had said, and with tears in his eyes he told me that there was a 99% chance that he was going to lose his eye. Then he introduced me to his father, who was also crying. The reason I remember him so clearly is because he reminded me that eyesight is something we take for granted. Have you ever thought about the fact that you could lose your eyesight with one silly accident? I’m a sunset person, and not seeing another orange sky would probably break me. He also seemed like a really nice guy, and I couldn’t imagine a reason why his girlfriend would have stabbed him. We always assume that men deserve their punishments, but you never know… bitches be crazy sometimes.
3. The psych patient who made me look like a fool
This gem literally impersonated another patient, and in doing so, tricked me and the security into letting him out of the psych ward. I must admit he’s skills were impressive. So on any given day there are about 10 patients who have been admitted, usually involuntarily, to the psych ward, which means they can only leave when a psychiatrist sees fit. And on a Tuesday and Thursday there is an outpatient clinic which happens in the same ward. On this particular day, I called the name of one of the outpatients (let’s call him John), but instead of John, Kevin (an involuntary inpatient) walked into my office and impersonated John. I was completely oblivious to this because I had never seen either of them before. Kevin answered all my questions as if he were John, and at the end of the consultation I handed him his file and sent him off to the pharmacy. And off he went. An hour later I got a phone call from another ward saying Kevin was there wreaking havoc, and we had to send security to fetch him (at least he never left the hospital). To this day I still have no idea who John is though…
4. The man who got hit by a “stone” but ended up with a bullet in his head
Yes, this happened. This guy arrived in EC with a small cut above his right eye, saying he had been hit by a stone. Turns out the stone was made of metal and came out of a barrel of a Glock 17 (I don’t actually know what gun it was, thats just the only kind of gun I know). Initially he was fine and didn’t have any indication for a CT scan, but I was in two minds about sending him home. Eventually my gut told me to do the scan, and low and behold – a bullet in his frontal lobe. Needless to say, he wasn’t fine for long. His level of consciousness dropped quickly, he started vomitting and was flown off to Cape Town Neurosurgery. I have no idea what happened to him. I like to hope that me scanning his brain saved his life but he deteriorated so quickly, my hopes are slim. None the less, he taught me about gut-feeling, and hopefully that will save someone else’s life in the future.
5. The Sweet Old Lady who actually appreciates my help
A four-leafed clover. Ninety five percent of patients are the I’ve-been-waiting-forever, bring-me-a-bed-pan, when-can-I-go-home kind. On a side note, why are patients so desperate for you to admit them, but then when you do, they ask when they are being discharged every time they see you? Anyway, the other five percent are the ones that make your day worthwhile, and remind you why you chose this life. This lady was so shocked and sympathetic that I was 18 hours into a shift, with 8 more to go. She gushed over the fact that I saw her, did an ECG and a X-ray, and diagnosed her in half an hour (despite the fact that she had been waiting forever, and still had to wait for her medication). She probably said “God bless you” about three times, thanked me about four, and then threw in another “God bless you”, just in case, on her way out (#blessed). It was so refreshing and motivating to be reminded that this often thankless job, is actually appreciated, and the work I do is worthwhile. Thank you, Sweet Old Lady, I will never forget you.