Agraphia Medical Tragicomedy

9Sep/06Off

Dipping into the trove of past experience…

This is one of my most vivid memories from working in the ER- I think I should record it before I forget. I was a hospital scribe; I wrote on charts for the docs so that their hands were free and they could see patients more quickly.

A woman had come in, and the triage note was that she was here for a "leg infection". The attending was busy, so he asked me to go in first and document. Every chart has a cartoon person on it, where you can draw lacerations, infections, etc.

When I walked in the room, the nurse leaving handed me a face mask and told me I'd be needing it. The woman was lying on the bed in a pale blue patient gown, with a sterile hospital sheet covering everything below her hips. She was old and thin, with white hair and wrinkled skin. More than anything, I remember that her eyes looked sad. I asked about the infection, and she started to tell me her story.

She cried softly as she told me that her husband of 30 years had died months earlier. Her kids didn't want to speak to her. She didn't know how to cope, and so without any sort of support, she sunk into a deep depression. She would lie in bed for days at a time, not eating, drinking, showering, or changing her clothes. Unfortunately, she wore compression socks. She was so depressed she hadn't changed them in weeks, until she started to notice that her legs hurt.

I peeled away the sheet to the most revolting smell I have ever known. There was yellow, cheesy, raw pus covering the entirety of her legs up to her knees. Her feet and toes were gangrenous, bloody, and blackened. The smell of rotting flesh was so powerful it knocked me back a step. In some odd, detached way, I noticed that I could make out the pattern that the sock stitching had imprinted on her legs.

She broke down sobbing, ashamed, horrified, depressed, hopeless. I didn't know what to do- it was just so overwhelming. I quickly sketched out a crosshatched area over the legs on her chart, and ducked out of the room with the excuse of coming back later. I never did.

I think she did ok in terms of the infection, though I'm not sure. I saw them wheeling an IV with an antibiotic drip into her room as they prepared her for admission into the hospital. I doubt curing the infection helped her all that much though- I can't shake the thought that she was just waiting to die. I wonder where she is now.

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