Musings on Thanksgiving

A few weeks ago, I met with a homeless man who was reported to be sleeping in the waiting area of the medical facility where I work.  He had come as a follow-up to an Emergency Room visit, and was animatedly yelling at one of the appointment secretaries because she did not have hot water he could use for making coffee.

 

After he was assessed by a doctor and declared to be mentally competent and physically stable, it was my job to discuss his behavior and set some limitations.  I walked into the exam room, introduced myself and sat across from him.  We chatted about his Emergency Room visit, what he has for resources, and how he could access the medical care he needs.  He is recently released from prison. He sleeps at the shelter.  He can get care from the mobile community health van.  He eats at the food kitchen.  He does not need anything else from our doctor. 

 

He was painfully thin, and his skin was orange from the sun and wind.  His white hair was yellow from the smoke of too many cigarettes, and as he pulled a small bottle of instant coffee from his backpack, he chastised me for not supplying him with hot water.

 

His demeanor became dark, angry and accusing, as I explained that the clinic is not set up for this; that he cannot sleep all day in the waiting area, and he cannot yell at our staff.  I acted as an agent for the organization that pays my salary, not unkind, respectful, calm, firm.

 

He left, slowly hoisting his pack on his shoulder, pedaling his bike against the cold October wind. I watched him from the second floor window until he disappeared over the hill’s horizon.

 

I did my job the way I am supposed to.  His own choices have created his destiny.  I know that I cannot save him, or save the world.

 

So why does he haunt me weeks later, as I serve up turkey and stuffing in a warm home with soft beds and a microwave that can crank out hot water for coffee in less than sixty seconds? 

Why do I feel so badly?

 

I did my job the way I am supposed to.

 

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