Frequent Flier

When I was in medical school in Richmond, Virginia, my emergency room rotation was in January. I learned a lot.

The emergency room uses the term frequent flier for the people they know well. This includes street people, alcoholics, addicts, domestic violence victims, mental health patients. The doctors, the nurses, the social workers, the front desk, the janitors, all know these people. They do their best to take care of them and it can be a challenge.

One morning I went to my shift and the staff was agitated. Half laughing, half horrified, a bit outraged.

"What happened?"

"They cut his suit off."

Ok, so this was a well known frequent flier. He worked during the week, lived alone, was very isolated. On Saturday night he would put on his best suit, for Sunday morning church. Then he would go out and get drunk, trashed, tanked. The ambulance crews knew him well, because he'd often end up in a ditch, drunk, in the wee hours Sunday morning. Someone would call about the body, or check to see if he was dead. The crew would go check him and either bring him in if he was really bad or they'd let him go back to sleep if he was ok. They might even run him home if they had nothing better to do. He was offered alcohol treatment over and over but he said he'd stop. He didn't need help.

A crew that didn't know him had gotten the call. The odds against this were very high, but it just happened that no one on the three person ambulance crew had met him. "Man down, in the park." They had rushed to his aid. Being new, they didn't know him or the Sunday suit. To get access quickly, ambulance crews will use bandage scissors to cut clothes off. This does ruin the clothes but can save a life, sometimes. They had cut off the top of his Sunday suit.

The crew brought him to the emergency room, lights and sirens. To be met with "What did you DO? YOU CUT OFF HIS SUNDAY SUIT!! WHAT WILL HE WEAR TO CHURCH?" Because he put the suit on Saturday night so that when he woke up on Sunday, he could go straight to church from where ever he happened to be.

The ambulance crew was not very happy. They had followed the protocols! The emergency room staff gave them endless grief, but everyone coped.

They took up a collection to replace his Sunday suit.