Walk Down Misery Street

The homeless were sometimes brought in by the EMS, when a passerby called 911 to report a person lying on the ground. They also came in on their own, swaying around, drunk on cheap vodka. They registered in the reception area and were then let inside, tottering towards an empty assigned bed.

They sat down on the white sheets and took off their dirty coats; those mildly sober asked for food. Some knew the timeframe for breakfast and lunch and tried not to miss it.

They were given food. Nurses, psych technicians, and doctors knew these unfortunate walking rags firsthand. In ED, people of this cluster of different nationalities and skin colors were known as the “frequent fliers.” They were addressed affectionately by name, like children—“Jim, sweetie, you came again? You’re hungry?” “Pedro where were you for so long? We have not seen you here all week!”—with a tinge of irony and slight sarcasm in the tone of their voice.

The hobo sat on the bed and ate everything on the tray. With his shaky, weakened, clumsy hands, he often dropped cookie crumbs and sandwich bites, spilling juice or milk all around him. This area quickly turned into a private garbage dump. After having his hasty meal, the hobo slipped off his dirty, trampled sneakers, when able to, and went to sleep.

Each time they came in, they presented new wounds: cracked heads, bloody faces, or broken ribs. Most of them were inflicted with chronic diseases in the legs, swollen and covered in bloody festering ulcers, with rotting toes. The doctors would evaluate those horrifying looking legs, sometimes directing the nurses to just apply some cream.

Often times, the smell in their assigned area was impossible to bear. In the situation where more than two were on the premises, the stench was so strong that the whole “yellow gown” zone reeked interminably.

When the ED was somewhat calm with empty spots, the hobos were allowed to sleep and sober up prior to being discharged. If, however, there was a lack of space, and “yellow gowns” continued to arrive, not much care was awarded to them. The attending physician would approach the bed, take the sleeping hobo by the shoulders and jerked him into a seating position. Then shaking abruptly, he would address him, “John wake up! John, are you ok?” John, having barely opened his drunken eyes would stare ahead blankly, unable to identify his surroundings.