Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Homeless Woman

The chest pain area of the emergency room at RMH, where I spent Friday night, is away from the rest of the ER. It is quieter there.

The rooms are single beds, very small, divided from the hall with a curtain.

I could hear everything said in the two rooms across from me as if I were standing right next to the bed. I couldn't hear anything said in the room beside me.

In one of the rooms across from me was a woman who was homeless. I know this because sometime before 8 p.m. Friday night the nurse helped her call her sister.

She told her sister that she was the ER with chest pains; she has spent the previous night in one of Roanoke's homeless shelters. She had lived in an apartment but her boyfriend beat her and she left. She had recently been released from a rehab unit somewhere.

I heard her tell her sister this story and I felt very sorry for her.

She needed somewhere to go. It would be late when she received her test results, too late to go to the homeless shelter because it closes it doors at a certain hour, apparently.

Her sister would not come get her. It appeared to me that the nursing staff took it upon themselves to keep her test results in limbo somewhere so that a social worker could see her early the next morning. I am not sure that is the case but the nurses did not want to let the woman go out into the very cold night with no place to go.

During the night the woman woke up upset. She wanted to leave. The nurse told her she could go if she wanted but reminded her that she had no shelter.

After much discussion, some of which included a story about a dream wherein the Lord told the homeless woman she should never go back to the homeless shelter, the nurse gave the woman a sleeping pill and she went back to sleep.

The next morning the social worker was next to useless; she did not offer the woman hardly any assistance from what I heard. The hospital or Social Services gave her a voucher for a ride in a cab to a homeless shelter.

Her test results showed she did have some kind of heart problem. Unlike me, she really did need to be tested since they actually found something. She needed some kind of medication that she told the nurse she could not afford.

All I could think was "there but for the grace of God." I have no idea of this woman's particular circumstances. I know there will be people who will judge her as having made poor choices and perhaps brought this upon herself; my impression was she was just one of those unfortunate souls who do not have much intelligence or common sense but I don't know that to be true. People will tell me that the money I expect to be paying out because of what my insurance won't cover will go to pay for this woman's care.

I know that. I still feel sorry for her. There has to be a better way to take care of people who are down on their luck, whether through poor choices, low IQ or whatever. Maybe this woman's family has some responsibility for her - I know if my brother called me, whatever the time of day, and told me he was in the hospital and needed me, I would drop everything I was doing and go to him. I would do the same thing for pretty much everyone, friends and family alike. But that is just me.

In any event, this woman's circumstances has preyed on my mind for a few days.

We are a mighty nation. Why can't we take care of those among us who really need it? What are we doing wrong?


  1. It's not so much what we are doing wrong as that we have a system that allows people like this woman the freedom to choose the amount of care she receives. When I worked in community mental health, I tried very hard to provide people with the choices they had for housing, assistance, and other services. Most ignored me and continued living on the street, resistant to help. It was hard, but it was their choice. We were not allowed to force anyone into treatment or to get help unless they were suicidial and had a plan. Even then, some of the people had used the suicidial excuse so often to get a place to sleep rather than for seeking help, the hospital workers were weary from being used. And so often the families of these folks are so torn from alcohol, drugs and abuse that sisters, brothers and other relatives can barely help themselves let alone anyone else. It's amazing some of these people survive their childhoods. Plus the relatives become victims themselves when they open their homes to their sibling who might have a criminal history and unsavory friends.

    It's a much deeper and complex system than the public is aware of.

  2. It's hard to believe that even in Roanoke there's issues like this. It's too bad that her sister didn't come for her or help her out. It just makes you wonder who's to blame, if anyone, for this situation. There should be some sort of fund for people like this but then again, other people would probably abuse it. I hope she gets the help she needs.

  3. So sad....I try not to judge people as you never know their whole story, what brought them to that place...I hope she finds the help she needs.

  4. First of all, I'm so relieved that you're o.k! I've been so crazy with my own family mess that I had to go back and read all your posts! My goodness - I'm glad you're all right.
    Second, you should never be embarrassed. That would scare anyone. You did the right thing!
    And finally, my heart breaks with you over that precious lady. Maybe it's because I spent all last week at RMH and I saw so much. But your words made me want to jump through my computer screen and give her a hug. We live in such a high-tech society that I think we're losing that human factor. Folks communicate through blogs, email, cell-phones etc... and we miss the opportunity to reach out to people. I know that's true for me. Sometimes folks just need to cry on someone's shoulder and feel that someone cares. Your story breaks my heart. There are so many hurting people out there. Thanks for sharing that story.

  5. i am just back from my trip to italy and catching up. hope you are alright after your er visit?

  6. Good Life - I seem to be okay. Thanks for asking.


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