The unhomeable

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I'm starting to feel like I'm part of some kind of experiment. Snatched from the world of the living, I've been put into a bizarre biosphere with 48hr days--my only contact with the outside world is electronic. When I'm at work I find myself struggling to find the words to describe the passage of time. Talking to other residents I will frequently use the word "yesterday" when I mean "the last shift." I never know what day it is--for one thing that changes half-way through the shift and I am without the visual cues of night and day. When I go into the hospital it is light, when I come out it is light. When I ask a disoriented patient if they know what day it is, I am uniformly racking my brain to remember what the correct answer should be.

Substance abuse is pandemic here. Every single patient I saw yesterday--wait, I mean...earlier today, i.e. that period after midnight but before I went home and went to sleep--anyway, every single one of them had a blood alcohol level well above the legal limit or had cocaine in their system. Every single one. In my anecdotal experience there is a very strong association between homelessness, drug abuse and mental illness. It's led me to begin using the phrase "unhomeable" rather than homeless to describe many of them. I suppose anyone might be homeless for a short period of time, but there are people out there that no government program can help, no charity can reach in any lasting or meaningful way--they are determined to kill themselves one way or another. It's not something I wasn't aware of, but it's remarkable to see it so plainly spelled out. Of course, there is a selection bias here, I suppose that the street people who show up to an inner-city emergency room are those at the end-state of that condition--not the the massive population of seniors and orphans purportedly put out on the streets by Republican cuts in school lunch programs and Medicare.

On the brighter side, I managed to breach the biosphere yesterday, no it was...the day before yesterday, in the late afternoon after I woke from my first sleeping period of that 24hr cycle...anyway I went home and spent the evening out with Ray. It was the first time I'd been home in a week--they give us a hotel room in Seattle when we're on this rotation so we don't become Harborview patients ourselves trying to drive home after work. It was really a treat to put the kids to bed, to read them a story. I went to bed that night and woke up at 5am to make the next shift. It was no more time off than usual, but it seemed like a long weekend at the beach. I'm really excited about tomorrow, it's my first 12hr shift. They give us a couple of 12hr shifts during the month in the spirit of giving us some time off. It's really a treat because you can actually function on your off-cycle day instead of spending most of the day asleep.

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This page contains a single entry by John published on February 17, 2003 7:32 PM.

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