The following story is absolutely true. I have not changed a single detail, HIPPA be damned. My patient will never see this story.
She can’t read.
I was sitting at the desk when I noticed her. She wandered into the emergency department around 0230, and began looking around. At first I could not tell if I was dealing with a male or a female. I tried to make verbal contact, but she didn’t acknowledge me. She turned and entered the empty cardiac room. I followed her, speaking as pleasantly as I could.
She walked right past me.
She looked old and walked as though her legs were arthritic. Her coat was dirty, wet and malodorous. Even through her fur coat I could see that she was very thin. (Homeless in a fur coat, go figure.)
The doctor and the two patients who could see the nurse’s station from the rooms frankly stared as the patient walked past, proceeded to enter the station and walk back into the break room. Excuse me? I was so stunned by her behavior it took me a moment to react.
As I entered the break room, fully intending to escort this rather, uh, assertive female out of the department, I noticed that her face lit up at the sight (and smell) of our New Year’s buffet on the break table. She just wandered around the table, looking and taking in the smell of meatballs, hummus, cheese….our usual selection of fattening foods. She never attempted to take any, but when I offered her a piece of chicken she nearly attacked me to get at it. Shocked, I dropped it and she bent over and devoured it. On the floor.
Through it all she never made a sound.
I noticed an open, festering wound on her lower left leg; this contributed dramatically to the odor emanating from her body. She would not leave the break room until I coaxed her out with more food. Again, I dropped it and again she ate it off the floor.
In 26 years of nursing I had never experienced this on the job.
Needless to say, I was a bit concerned. I managed to get her out of the department and into the ambulance bay and we barricaded the doors so she could not get back in. Our local police department was on the way, so I kept feeding her crackers so she would not get agitated.
Oddly, she began following commands so I knew she wasn’t deaf. She sat on the floor in the ambulance area and then proceeded to lay down. I wasn’t so afraid of her by now so I scratched her ears.
Oh, did I forget to mention that she was an approximately 80 pound, long-haired German Shepherd?
We called the phone number on her tag. The owner had left her in his car, fully intending to leave her there until later the next day. That poor dog was starving. Somehow she was able to break out and that is how she wound up in the ER. No one would be coming to pick up our patient during the night. Animal Control was called.
Once her tummy was full, she was a calm, loving dog.
She liked me.
It took Animal Control an hour to get to the ER, during which time this patient benefited from 1:1 nursing care.
No charge, of course.