Tuesday, December 28, 2010


He was brought in toward the end of her shift at the overnight walk-in clinic. It had been slow, the usual aches and pains and one sprain that needed to be X-rayed to rule out a fracture. The man the police had brought in an hour or so ago lay on a gurney with its head end somewhat elevated. He stared at the line where the wall met the ceiling.

When the doctor on call came in she looked up from the paper work she was filing in. All he had to do was say “nurse” and she began to recite the patient's history while he prepared to examine the man on the gurney, as much of the history as she knew.

“Someone discovered him slumped on the steps of the library, approximately three a.m. Saw he was unconscious and called ERS. No response to regular stimuli, no sign of trauma or alcohol or drugs, so paramedics and police brought him here. Dumped him.”

“Regained consciousness?”

“About ten minutes ago, after I had called you. He doesn't seem to respond to the usual sound or pain stimuli, only reflexive responses of the pupils to light. Both equal but slow.”

“His name?”

“They think he's one of those street people, the homeless but a new one. They haven't had to deal with him before. You know how those guys are; no I. D. or anything. This one, all he had on him was a library card with the name Thomas Duhammeloc. He didn't respond to his name when I tried to speak to him earlier, but the police did promise to look through shelter records for us.”

The doctor approached his patient. “Mr. Duhammeloc? Am I pronouncing that right? I just want to check your signs to prove you're OK. May I call you Thomas? Or do your friends call you Tom?” The pulse, respirations and blood pressure were within normal limits but the patient showed no response to the doctor's voice or the touch of the stethoscope, nor did he respond to requests for a deep breath. The doctor turned away and began to make his own notations in the man's file.

“Just monitor him for the time being. I'll make arrangements to have him transferred and seen by a neurologist in the morning.” He turned back to the patient and noticed a broad smile on the face, even though the eyes still seemed to be focused on the juncture of wall and ceiling.

Doctor and nurse chatted for a few more minutes, and the doctor prepared to leave. Then a voice came clear and strong from the man on the gurney.

“My mother calls me Richard.”

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