Tuesday, December 13, 2011


I want a Diet Coke!

It was the first thing I thought as I woke up this morning. Although I had mostly kicked the addiction, occasionally the urge was strong. I recently relegated my caffeine drinking to availability. I refused to buy soda at the grocery store. I strutted past the vending machines as if they didn't exist.

Once in awhile, I allowed myself to partake: a drug lunch here, a sporting event there. If a Diet Coke was placed in front of my face, I would drink it. So it wasn't a complete surprise that I woke up with such cravings. After years of drinking six pack after six pack, I was convinced that my brain chemistry had been altered.

When I stopped by the office before rounding at the hospital, I rummaged through the refrigerator hoping to find buried treasure. No such luck! I knew that I would pass a bank of vending machines in the long hallway that led to the hospital, but I had sworn off such a willful solution to my lusting.

This morning, I would have to forgo my needs.


The hospital census was large and active. I worked my way through the telemetry and ICU floors. I stopped at each patent's bedside and then the nursing station to chart at a computer. There was a hodge-podge of bread and butter medical and surgical care.

I quietly entered the room of my last patient for the morning. Mrs. Brooks was nearly one hundred years old. Her dementia had progressed severely over the last few years, and she was admitted for a urinary tract infection. Her verbal ability was limited to the single word "yes".

Mrs Brooks, it's good to see you....yes.

Are you feeling better then yesterday...yes

Do you want to go back to the nursing home....yes

Mrs. Brooks had no children and the rest of her family had died or moved away. Her medical decisions were made by a distant nephew, who I had talked to on the phone, but never met in person.

After examining Mrs. Brooks, I turned to leave the room. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a glimmer of aluminum on the desk. I turned my head and my mouth started to water like one of Pavlov's dogs. Sitting on the table was a six pack of Diet Coke.

I couldn't resist the lure of the silver can enshrouded in a white label. Perverse thoughts ran through my head. I was Gollum from Lord of the rings stretching for my "precious".

She's demented! She'll never know!
Mrs. Brooks can I have a Diet Coke....yes.


As I reached for the can I had a shocking moment of clarity. It was if, all the sudden, someone turned on a spot light and pointed it in my direction. I was standing in a demented woman's hospital room stealing her Diet Coke.

I felt a great sense of shame. After all of these years learning and caring for the elderly I had stooped to this.

Mrs. Brooks had been forgotten. She was abandoned and relegated to the dark corners of a nursing home where society didn't have to acknowledge her.

It somehow escaped me this morning.

It was my job to protect her.

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