Saturday, October 1, 2011

Are You Listening?

I did what all good interns would do in the same situation. I rolled my eyes in the direction of the ER resident and waited for his response.

You have to be the sieve....the sieve.

We all did it. Stonewalled the ER in hopes that they would send our new admission packing. It rarely happened though. Somehow each admission always made it up to the floor. There was no turning back once the papers were filed and the bed was assigned.

Scottie was no different. His twenty year old body was fit and lean. His chest moved up and down in a rapid rhythm. I took my time examining him. As we talked his respiratory rate slowed. I placed my stethoscope on his chest. Maybe a few wheezing sounds but I had my suspicions that they came from his neck and not his lungs.

The paperwork classified him as an admission for asthma and bronchitis. My resident and I were doubtful. Scottie wanted, not needed, to be in the hospital. We just couldn't figure out why.


I spent the next three days trying to convince Scottie to go home. By day I would find him sleeping in bed with the covers pulled over his head. At night he awoke. His cell phone dangling from his tattooed arms. He teased the doctors and nurses. He convinced the dietary staff to bring him extra portions. He was king of the ward.

His charm was his greatest weapon. He smiled. He cajoled. He begged. But as another call day was approaching, my resident and I became more stern. We had to clear our census for the next onslaught of patients.

As I wrote the discharge prescriptions, Scottie tried again.

If I leave today I'll die out there. I just need more time!

By now I was immune to his pleas. His lungs sounded great and he was ready to be discharged. He pulled his hat over his eyes and his pants fell low on his waste. A few of the nurses gathered to wish him well. They whistled and catcalled as he disappeared through the hospital doors.


A few days later I was paged to the ER at three in the morning. As I yawned and rubbed the sleep from my eyes, A man dressed in sports coat approached from the door. He wore a cowboy hat and boots and I could see the outline of a gun tucked behind his coat.

He introduced himself as a detective from the St. Louis police department. He reached deep into one of his pockets and produced a tattered piece of paper. He held it up in front of my face. I squinted to read the writing. It was a set of discharge instructions with my signature at the bottom.

We found this in Scottie Pearson's back pocket. He was shot in the head and dumped in a field.


Scottie's story quickly spread among the physicians in our program. Everyone had a different idea of why he was hiding out in the hospital. Was it drugs? Gangs? Organized crime? A love triangle?

For many, Scottie became another memorable book mark in a series of odd and difficult experiences that marked our years in training. But as I get older, I think more about what he really had to teach me.

As so often happens in our lives, Scottie was trying to tell me exactly what he needed. Although I heard his words, I kept trying to interpret them based on my own point of view. Clearing my patient census for my next call rotation was more important to me then keeping him in the hospital. Sure I justified my actions by saying that he was healthy. But I never took the time to step outside of my own space to understand his.

Whether professionally or personally we all express our deepest needs to the people around us. Years ago, Scottie was trying to tell me his.

I just wasn't listening.

No comments: