I had a rough day today. I work for an eye surgeon, and we get our fair share of indigent patients. Today a homeless man came in as recommended by the ER of the hospital down the street where my doctor is on call as a trauma eye surgeon. This older, white gentleman w/sunken & “cloudy”’eyes came in & his sight was so poor I had to fill out his paperwork for him & lead him to the exam room. We had to lead him everywhere because he was running into walls. I tied his shoe for him because he couldn’t see well enough to tie them himself. He had no insurance but said he was a veteran. He stank. No one wanted to sit next to him. We see patients referred by the VA all the time. ￼He was off mentally but knew his SSN, an old address & his sister’s name & phone number. Long story long, we pulled up his records from the ER but the info there was limited too. I got his sister on the phone & she confirmed that he was in the military (USMC) & homeless. She hadn’t seen him since 2015 & lives out of state. She informed me that whenever they came to check on him, he was normally under a bridge down the street. We knew he couldn’t pay for his visit, but the doctor I work for never cares about that and was not going to turn him away.
After I got off the phone w/his sister I called TriWest (military insurance) & they didn’t see him in their system. I called the VA. Same thing initially, but when they transferred me to another department the 2nd person I spoke to found him, but much to my dismay he was dishonorably discharged in 76’ & had no benefits. Huge sigh. I was expecting a totally different outcome. I wanted to go above & beyond for this man. I wanted to be a hero to him & couldn’t. My hands haven’t been tied like that in a long time. It hurt. He so desperately needs cataract surgery & seeing him fumble around broke my heart. I don’t care that he was dishonorably discharged. He served – something some Americans lack the courage to do despite all the patriotism some claim. Whatever he did, to get kicked out of the Marine corps seems so unimportant to me right now. He’s much older & I’m sure a shell of his former self. He’s paid in full for that infraction w/his life. We recommended that he seek assistance at the local public hospital here smack in the middle of downtown Atlanta. Locals on my page know of it all to well.
A person he was engaging in panhandling with sprayed him in the eyes w/mace & told him to get lost. Wow. That’s what sent him to the ER & ultimately our clinic. Some of us can be so cruel. Why couldn’t this person simply give a “no thanks’” & keep it moving? Ignoring him completely would’ve been much more humane. I happen to believe, that if every one of us on the planet stepped into the shoes of the indigent & homeless – the “least” of society, our empathy would shoot up higher than the tallest building we’ve managed to erect. We cannot grow as a nation if we cannot take care of the “least” of us. I made a split second decision to go and get him something to eat at least. Then I had to tell him painfully direct & tactfully near closing, that he didn’t have to go home but…..on the bright side your sister is coming as soon as she can, and you now have the money for a round trip on the bus. I gave him that too. I’ll never forget the flood of empathy he solicited from within me. I’ll never forget his face. I’ll never forget his name – it’s Richard.
Until next musing,