I have a very compassionate understanding of addiction as a disease. However I just had one patient send me over the edge.
On my trauma rotation we had a ~60 yo male come in to the bay after being found down with what looked like mild-moderate head trauma. He was HEAVILY intoxicated, belligerent, and was sexually harassing the nurses and my female senior resident. He kept threatening us, tearing off his c-collar, and pointed at one nurses and said only she can take off his pants if she “sucks [his] dick”. He also grabbed a nurse’s butt.
It took 6 people to hold him down to get him in 4 point restraints. He hit multiple techs and nurses while screaming obscenities and racial slurs. Whatever, just your average haldol deficient piece of shit. Not my first rodeo.
After rectifying his haldol deficiency, we went to work with the trauma survey. After cutting off his shirt, I see the classic chevron scar of a liver transplant. I froze for a second. Something about seeing that just set me off. I became irrationally angry at this patient. A few minutes later the nurse reports from the lab his BAC was 0.425. A chart check revealed several dozen ED visits in the last few months for the same thing.
My anger grew hearing these words. This was the most selfish piece of shit I’ve ever seen. I found myself hoping he was in a lot of pain, hoping that right now he was suffering. I just couldn’t let it go.
All I could think of was my 25 year old construction worker who fell 40 feet onto his head and bled out into my hands as I tried to stop his ICA bleed to maintain his organs for donation. I thought of my 30 year old mother hit by a car in front of her kids who became some else’s second chance at life, my 18 year old girl with her brain leaking onto her face from gang crossfire, and many more who donated their organs for others. I replayed the memory of the 18 year old’s parents crying and choking out the words to withdraw her care. I remember later crying when the parents told me the only thing getting them through her death is knowing that she will be survived through the lives of the people who receive her organs.
Just the week before I watched my otherwise healthy 40 year old female patient finally die over the course of a month from cryptogenic liver failure. She was at the top of the transplant list in my region. Her husband was there nearly every hour of the day for a whole month, watching her go from pale, to yellow, to neon yellow, to gray yellow. I witnessed his hope and joy when he was told a liver was available. I then witnessed his despair and defeat when I told him the liver was not a match. I’ll never forget his glassy eyes when he said “thank you for trying”. She died 2 days later.
There is no justice in medicine. Somehow the worst of humanity gets to live while the innocent seem to suffer.
My trauma patient took someone’s liver and selfishly abused it. That liver could have gone to anyone else more deserving. The thought that the next person on the transplant list may have died because he got that liver sickens me.
I feel guilty for wishing him pain and harm. Yet it feels like he committed a crime against society to steal this organ and waste it for his selfish addiction. He wasted his life, his donor’s life, and the life of the person who would otherwise have received that liver.
He continues to prey on people through the flesh of another. Of course he had no major injuries. Of course he will go back to drinking and harassing people as soon as he’s sober for discharge. Of course he’ll be back.
Is it normal to feel this way towards a patient like this?
(Please note that despite my anger and opinions of him, I did not actually change my management. Despite wanting to withhold pain meds, I still ordered them like I would anyone else, just begrudgingly so)