He came to us from the streets. He was able to spend some of his nights at a local mission shelter, but that was only twelve hour housing on a first come, first serve basis. If he got there too late, he was doomed to spend the night outdoors; outdoors in the bitterly cold, northern Ohio winter. He was emaciated and filthy. His hair and beard hung in long, greasy tangles. His nails were black. Filth was encrusted into his skin. The only reason he ended up with us was due to his illness finally getting the best of him. He’s paranoid schizophrenic and started believing someone was poisoning his water. To counteract this, he began pouring bleach into his water and coffee prior to drinking it. Someone at the shelter noticed this and he finally made his way into the mental health system, for the first time, at age forty-seven.
He was initially very frightened of us, but accepted low doses of antipsychotic medications with very little encouragement. After the first day, he was able to accept direction from us. We were able to get him into the shower. He spent his days just lying in the bed, in the warmth of a hospital room. He doesn’t watch television or socialize with the other patients. He just lies in bed; internally stimulated with whatever hallucinations are running through his mind at the moment. He comes out for meals, then begins searching through the dining room’s garbage cans for leftovers he can take back to his room. We gently redirect him to the refrigerator and cupboards that are stocked with whatever he may want. He smiles hugely with a smile that has very few teeth left in it and takes a package of crackers back to his room. This is quite a coup for someone used to eating moldy and rotting food out of dumpsters.
He has a harsh, moist cough. He’s wheezing. He’s coughing up green sputum. We begin to suspect pneumonia. He’s too paranoid to allow a chest x-ray or respiratory treatments. He does accept antibiotics from a trusted nurse, however. He complains of a large lump on the side of his neck that is causing him some pain. After another day of antipsychotic meds, he is agreeable to allow a CT-scan of the neck and chest. The results stop all of the nursing staff in their tracks. We’re not used to seeing this kind of thing on a psych unit.
The doctor goes in to give him the news about what she suspects. She tells him it looks like cancer; like the cancer is in his lymph glands, lungs and spine. He smiles and thanks her for the information. She says she wants to run a few more tests on him. He smiles and agrees to whatever the doctor wants. The doctor is shaken by his calm demeanor.
His nurse takes him some juices to help break up the congestion in his chest. She asks if he understands what the doctor just told him. He says he does. Then he smiles again and says “It’s so nice to finally be loved.”
We all cried for this sad, lost soul. We pray his death will be kinder than his life has been.