Tuesday, February 2, 2010

"They've never given an organ transplant to an inmate."

In the hospital today during clinical, my patient was a 52-year-old white male with extensive liver damage caused by years and years of alcoholism (he told me he drank a case of beer a day for 20 years.)

He was also a prisoner convicted of murder and mutilation of a body.

But you'd never guess. He could be your grandfather; gray-haired, balding, standing only 5'7" tall. Look down, however, and you'd see his shackled feet. And beside him stood a towering prison guard who never let him out of sight.

Before meeting my patient, I pictured a cold, hardened, uncooperative criminal.

But then I spent two hours talking to this criminal/person/man/human being about his life...

He was born in West Virginia--"a hick," he called himself--and moved to Ohio when he was ten years old. He began working at a young age to support himself and eventually he became a skilled tradesman; a welder, a mechanic, a construction worker, etc. He made good money that way, traveling to different places for contracted work. There was no mention of a wife or a girlfriend but he spoke fondly of his two daughters, one 29 and the other 30, and of his two grandchildren, a boy and a girl.

He then began to tell me about the alleged events leading up to his arrest and sentencing to life in prison...

He had been passed out drunk one night and when he awoke, there was a dead body in his house. "A murder I didn't commit...and I know that's hard to believe, even for me," he told me. He described an immense "spirit of fear" that overcame him upon discovering the body and how it drove him to "get rid of" the body rather than calling the police. He feared that he would be blamed for the murder. I asked him if he knew the dead person and he said yes, he had. I could see his remorse. I knew he believed his story.

That was ten years ago and he's been behind bars ever since. He devoted the past four years to "Bible College" where he took classes to learn about the Bible and biblical theology, earning himself a Bachelor's Degree. "If The Lord took me today, I'm ready," he said, "but I want to spend time with my daughters." I'm not sure whether he had been a religious man before prison but he was very spiritual when I sat with him. I could see the comfort religion gave him. He understood the likely outcome of his progressive liver failure, "They've never given an organ transplant to an inmate. It's never been done."

Our conversation took place as we waited for his esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD) procedure. An EGD is when they weave a fiber optic endoscope with a camera through the esophagus and into the stomach and intestines so you can see the entire gastrointestinal tract. It was really cool because the doctor and nurses performing the procedure explained to me everything we saw. I saw inside my patient's stomach!

After my patient had returned to his room from the endoscopy and I had finished my tasks for the day, I went to his room to thank him and to say goodbye.

"You're not going to be back?" he asked, breaking my heart a little bit when I told him no, I wouldn't.

And then he told me something I'll remember forever: "Emily, what you are doing is commendable. Thank you."