The woman was brought to our Emergency Room earlier this afternoon, suffering from a severe case of heat exhaustion. Someone found her passed out on the street, called for an ambulance, and she was brought here to our hospital roughly around three or so hours ago.
The woman has since regained consciousness, but she is obviously very confused and disoriented. She is one of the increasing number of homeless, destitute people in our city; to see her breaks my heart because the problem is far bigger than what we are able to cope with. Still, she was in need of treatment, so we couldn't turn her away, especially now, with it being so hot outside.
In the ER triage room, I sat with this woman while I asked her medical history. I tried to make the questions as simple as possible so the woman could understand and then answer my questions. I checked her blood pressure (alarmingly high; it registered 250/167 on the blood pressure monitor; this probably explained her disorientated nature, plus her face was beet red in color); the doctor in charge instructed another nurse to put the woman on a heart monitor and oxygen at a flow rate of 2 liters per minute, via nasal cannula.
The woman startled when the oxygen and blood pressure cuff were applied, but I reassured her that she was in the hospital, as she was very ill and needed care. The woman said that she couldn't afford it, as she was homeless; I told her that her health was important right now; we would worry about the cost of the ER visit later.
I asked the woman her name and age. She said her name was Minnie Pearl Owens and that she was 58 (but obviously looked much older, thanks to the dirt and grime all over her body). Her clothes were a dull, dingy grey and they hung on her emaciated frame; she looked eighty to ninety instead of nearly sixty years of age. Her grey hair was matted and tangled; it hung to below her shoulders. She had mismatched shoes on her feet and her legs were swollen and rather discolored. It was obvious she probably had diabetes or at least poor circulation.
Minnie went on to tell me her story. She was a disabled Veteran who served in the first Gulf War; she became her ex husband took all of her money and threw her out. The husband ran off with a woman in her 20's. Minnie took up drinking to ease the pain in her heart and had been on the streets ever since.
Minnie had a son, but lost contact when she lost her place; they hadn't spoken to one another since. At the mention of her son, Minnie cried; all I could do was hold her as she sobbed and sobbed. My own eyes filled with tears as I listened to her anguished cries of grief and personal pain.
Eventually Minnie calmed down. She looked about her and asked when she could leave. I told her she would more than likely be admitted; with a blood pressure as high as hers was, it would be very risky to let her go, for fear she could suffer a massive stroke or heart attack. That was when I noted that her left arm hung uselessly; she could not move it. She told me she had had a stroke several years back. She was on the verge of having another one if we didn't do something about her blood pressure as soon as possible, the doctor told Minnie.
Surprisingly, Minnie didn't put up a fuss. She obligingly agreed to be admitted; we reassured the homeless woman that she would be very well taken care of and we would probably get her something to eat. No doubt she was probably hungry: she looked like she hadn't eaten a decent meal in over a week. Minnie looked as if she didn't even weigh 95 pounds soaking wet: she was incredibly skinny, save her swollen legs.
Minnie howled when I started an IV in her arm. I had to stick her twice to get access to a good vein. I apologized to her for hurting her, but soon had the IV running precious liquid into her veins, so she wouldn't become more dehydrated than she probably already was. Minnie smiled weakly; I knew then she had accepted my apology.
About three hours later, a bed was available. Minnie Pearl Owens would be going to the fifth floor of the hospital (Medical Floor), where Dr. Venkatesh Arjuwahl and Dr. Stone Morgan would be her attending physicians. I promised her that I would probably stop in to see her when I got off of work at 11:00 (only three and a half more hours, that is, if she wasn't already asleep by then).