The house is dim and smells like a dead person. Dusty, unmopped wooden floors, filthy curtains, overflowing garbage in the kitchen. The patient is down the hall in a bedroom. Old man living with his two sons, or rather two sons living with their old man because what the old man is doing really isn’t living. Under a dirty blanket, he is naked with a distended abdomen, and green yellow fungus on his body. He is short of breath with periods of apnea. He moans when you touch him. No distinguishable words. His pressure is 88/48. HR-124. Blood sugar is 500. Sat – 90%.
The son, who says he works in a nursing home has been spoon feeding him for the last week. He called today because he noticed the old man would stop breathing for a period of time and then start again. He repeats again that he works in a nursing home so he notices these things. He says his father hasn’t been to a doctor for forty years.
We carry the old man in a stair chair because we can’t fit the stretcher in the door. In the back of the ambulance I have to open the window on the side door in order to breath. I give him oxygen and a fluid bolus on the way to the hospital. Everytime he goes apneic, I nudge him and he moans.
We tell the story at the hospital and the nurse just says, poor dear, as she looks at the old man.
I wash my hands a couple times, but sitting here now, two hours later, I can still smell him. I feel like I need to take a shower, wash my clothes, shampoo my nose hairs or maybe just rip them all out. The smell won’t go away. I had a mustache years ago, but I shaved it because I got tired of shampooing it after every smelly call. I know now it isn’t just the mustache that holds the smell, the smell just gets on you and it won’t go away. Your nose, your brain remembers it. It just lingers. It gets in your skin.
And this wasn’t even that bad as smelly calls go. Maybe it’s just that I haven’t had one for awhile or that that smell just recalls all the times I’ve smelled it in the past.
My partner and I were talking on the way back. What’s up with letting your old man live like that? There wasn’t even a TV in the room. And how could you live with that smell? Did it just creep up on you that you didn’t notice it?
Tonight when I get off work, I’m going to put my running shoes on, and I’m going to run. On this grey day, I’m going to run from that smell, run from inevitable decrepitude, run from dim rooms where fate may put us. When I get home, I’m going to take a long hot shower and then have a strip steak with a little dab of butter on it. I’m going to have some fresh vegetables, and some long grain rice. And I’m going to have at least one cold 7 ounce beer. Maybe two. And then I’m going to do the dishes and clean the kitchen with bleach. I’m going to do some serious scrubbing. I’m going to scrub until my elbow throbs. The kitchen’s going to be sparkling clean and white when I’m done. I hope to have a restful, dreamless night.