In the middle of the night, the medics brought in a middle-aged lady who was severely burned. They said she was a street person who had been drinking and lit her blanket on fire in trying to light her cigarette. They said her husband had left for some reason and returned only to see her engulfed in flames.
My first thoughts when she rolled in the door were, “She is going to die” and “It will be a merciful death.”
She had full thickness burns over her body from the waist up and other burns scattered over her lower body as well. Her hands were crisped so they looked like the feet of the Peking duck hanging in the window of King Egg Rolls. Having her whole face burned made her look like she had on a gruesome mask. It was grayish-yellow in color and tight so the eyelids were pressed closed, the nose was just a couple of tight holes and her mouth was a narrow slit.
She was moaning and thrashing around, resisting our efforts to try to help her. I reassured her we were going to give her medicine to put her to sleep, which we promptly did.
Next, we needed to get a tube into her windpipe before everything swelled up and we were unable to do so. Because her nose, mouth and face had been turned into a cruel, stiff leather mask, there was no way to pass the tube the way we normally do through the nose or mouth. The only option was to cut a hole in the front of her neck and pass the tube directly into her windpipe.
Once that was done, we had a lot of other things to do to stabilize her and get her up to the burn unit, which we did in short order. We were not surprised when her alcohol level came back at 465 (80 being legally intoxicated in this state.)
After returning to the care of my other patients, I was informed that my next patient was the husband of the burned lady. That caused me to take a gulp and prepare myself emotionally before I approached him to evaluate the minor burns he had suffered in the event. I found him to be rather uninvolved emotionally and not interested in my expressions of sympathy. He also had no questions and showed no interest in how she was doing. I attributed this to his level of intoxication. In fact, after being treated for his burns, he just rolled over and fell asleep.
When he later woke, somewhat more sober, he again showed no interest in his wife. All he could do was complain because none of the donated shoes we had was size eight-and-a-half. He took his prescription for pain medication and his discharge papers and walked out.
Later, I was walking down the hall of the hospital on my way home when I ran into him again. He had made his way to the Customer Service Department. Though it was still not office hours, a very nice lady had opened the door and tried to give him some advice about how he might find some shoes. He didn’t seem to recognize me and still showed no signs of any concern about the wife.
The next day, there was an article in the newspaper saying the police had arrested the husband and charged him with her murder! No wonder he seemed more interested in size eight-and-a-half shoes than in his wife.
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