Last Friday, the receptionist at a doctor's office recently called Bethesda Cares and spoke with one of our volunteers:
"We have 'Steve' with us. He has broken a bone in his foot, and we'd like to discharge him to you. Can you please give me your address?"
"We can't take him overnight, we're not a night shelter," the volunteer replied. "And Steve is homeless. He has nowhere to go."
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"I mean," the volunteer spoke slowly and clearly, "he has no place sleep. He has no home. And the County shelters are closed for the season. You can try the County Emergency Center to see if they can find a bed for him, but really, there is nowhere to send him."
"Well. You don't need to be rude about it," the receptionist sniffed, and hung up abruptly.
This morning, I saw Steve limp into our Drop-In Center, walking slowly with ill-fitting crutches. He sat down, then someone brought him coffee and he started talking about what he had been through.
"The hospital, they got it wrong the first time," he said. "I went, they said my foot was swollen but it would be okay. So they sent me out, put me on a bus. I couldn't walk, though. I got off the bus, and I couldn't even take a step. So I just sat up at that bus stop all night long," he said. "It hurt, it really hurt. I couldn't even take a step. I sat on that bench all night. Hurt too much to sleep."
Someone asked him what happened next.
"Someone called an ambulance. I couldn't even get back on the bus to get back to the hospital," he said. "That time they took an x-ray and said, 'oh, yeah, we were wrong, it's broken,'" he said. "So they put this plastic thing on my foot, and wrapped it up in this Ace bandage."
Walking over to get some coffee myself, I glanced at his foot. It was a mess. The bandage was already filthy and in tatters.
"Isn't that waterproof?" I asked. "Didn't they give you something waterproof?"
"Naw," he said. "They put some plastic thing under the bandage, like, some kind of shoe, but the bandage isn't waterproof."
Someone at that office, or maybe several someones, is either clueless or just not thinking. It's summertime in DC: that means high humidity and heavy downpours nearly every afternoon. This guy lives on the street. That means walking. That means wet feet.
Knowing today's weather forecast, I offered him a handful of garbage bags to put over his foot when it starts to rain. He accepted. When I approached him, the stench from his filthy bandages was overpowering.
How is this possibly medical care?
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