Playing Doctor

Initial Visit?

Wednesday, December 29

Uncynical Wednesdays: Christmas on Fire

I got called down to the ED around five in the afternoon for a patient who had arrested in the field. At his family’s post Christmas celebration, someone had started a fight with their cousin. In retaliation, the cousin had thrown gasoline onto him and set him on fire. The police were called and in the ensuing melee my patient had tried to break up the fight or put the fire out or something. He then dropped over and quit breathing. Fire Rescue brought him back in the field, and he was doing pretty well, all things considered. He was on a breathing machine and unconscious. He was critical, but not actively dying.

His sister keeps asking me if she should call his children to come and be with him. I keep telling her that she should.

But she keeps qualifying her question saying they had a complex family situation and being all cagey. Finally I say, “Look, He may very well die tonight. If the children would want to see their father before he died, then I would call them.”

“The reason I am asking about his kids,” She tells me, “is because he was convicted of sexually molesting them. They have not spoken to him in seven years.”


“Look,” I say, “I don’t know what you want me to tell you. You know the situation better than I do. If you think they could handle it, let them know their father might be dying. Or call their mother. I don’t know. Youre going to end up being the bad guy who didn’t give them the chance to say goodbye to their father if you don’t make a phone call.”

I, frankly, did not really know what to tell her. I missed the day in medical school when we covered: “patient dying, estranged from children (secondary to sexual molestation).” But I knew that if she didn’t tell the kids, they stood a pretty good chance of blaming their unresolved feelings on her.

The nurses, when they found out what was going on suggested the best solution might be to throw the patient out the window of his seventh floor room.

I reminded them that not only had he served his prison time, per both the sister and the prison tattoos, but that we did not know his sister was telling the truth. I couldn’t think of a reason why she would make that up, but I figure a family that sets its own members on fire probably has some peculiar dynamics.

Beyond which, I don’t really care what my patients have done. It is not my position to weigh in on their worth for health but to restore it.

I guess the real question is, are you going to pray for this man's health?


Blogger Erik writes:

In the first paragraph I have defined two pieces of medical slang using html so as not to distract from the story. Unfortunately, in some browsers they appear as regular text. If you scroll over them, the definitions will still appear.


Blogger hot babe writes:

Well, I don't pray, so I guess that answers the question- sort of. What a great family. People really throw gasoline on people & set them on fire? I thought that was just in the movies. In comparison it makes my family seem less likely to be institutionalized anytime soon.


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