September 25, 2007


About two weeks ago, a patient was carried into the clinic complaining of pain in his shoulder and general body weakness. The patient was a man about 50 years old, though he looked much older and was thin and had difficulty standing on his own.

It’s tough to know what to do in these situations, as there’s not some miracle drug that can cure a lifetime of physical maladies and hard living. We gave him some pain-killers, specimen jars to collect sputum for a tuberculosis test, and told him to come back on Thursday when we could do an HIV test. Patients might need more help than that but this is a good first step. Generally, I’ve noticed, we also try to tell a family member as well so there’s a little pressure to take the pills, spit in the jars, and come back. But in this case, as I recall, the family member who came with him was clearly drunk and in no condition to remember anything we told her.

He never came back and I can’t say I really noticed. There are so many patients who come through the clinic each week it’s hard to keep track of them all. If I thought of this particular patient at all, I probably thought, “Haven’t seen him lately – he must be feeling better.”

Anyway, the other day someone mentioned that he had died in his shack a few days earlier. When I was putting the information in our death records book, I thought, “I recognize that name” and noticed my hand-writing on his record.

It was a reminder that even though we provide some pretty good health care to some people who need it, we can’t cure every patient.