by Robert Lanz, LCSW
I was sitting at the front desk, taking advantage of what was a slow night, relatively speaking. There is really no such thing as a slow night in the ER, and if there is, nobody mentions it. Bad luck. Just think “slow night”, and troublesome patients, including the most difficult regulars, start showing up and some of them might actually be sick. I hate to even write the words “slow night” for fear of the trouble it might cause, trouble that would probably be blamed on me.
Anyway, it was a not-too-busy night and I was hanging out talking to a nurse and all of a sudden the doors flew open. A woman about forty years old came in screaming, “I’ve got an OD in my car. I can’t tell if she’s breathing.”
The nurse and I quickly stepped out to see what the big deal was. A person who comes screaming through the ambulance doors isn’t always a real emergency. Screaming can mean anything from a stubbed toe to multiple deaths in the parking lot, you never know. The big deal that night was a half-naked woman in her thirties, hanging out the open door of a car, her body flopped over the seat. My first impression was that she was pretty good-looking, despite her unconscious state and her awkward body position. Since she wasn’t wearing any clothes on the upper part of her body, I decided to let the nurse take the lead. She took charge and with me watching over her shoulder, checked for pulse and pupillary reflex. There was neither.
“Call a code!” she yelled.
So much for a slow night. I ran back inside and called “cardiac arrest” and everyone ran out to the dock. We muscled the woman out of the car and into a wheelchair, rolled her into the resuscitation room and went to work. We cut her clothes off and put IV’s into her arms. The ER tech started performing CPR while the nurse hooked up the EKG leads. We drew blood for toxic screens, gave antidotes to heroin, rechecked her pupils, kept an eye on the heart monitor, gave massive loads of all types of cardiac medications and checked the monitor again, but nothing worked. She looked so peaceful lying there and actually very pretty. While everyone else was trying to save her life I was trying to get over my guilt at finding a dying patient sexually attractive. It wasn’t easy.
I finally left the room and went to talk to the shaken woman who had brought the patient in. I thanked her for playing the part of good Samaritan and for involving herself in one of life’s dramas. The woman had been standing at her kitchen sink doing the dinner dishes and looked up just as the patient staggered onto her front lawn, making it about half way through a woozy pirouette before falling on her face. Dressed only in skin-tight Levi’s, with no purse, no I.D. no shoes and no top, the stranger went down and couldn’t be aroused despite the best efforts of the poor woman, who probably thought this would be another boring night washing dishes. Somehow she managed to drag the OD victim into her car, which couldn’t have been easy because the patient was about six feet tall.
The woman told me she had never seen the Jane Doe before, that she was not a regular in the neighborhood and it all happened so fast she just wrestled Jane into the car and drove to the ER. She didn’t know a whole hell of a lot more about Jane Doe than we did. She also probably didn’t know that if she had taken the time to call the paramedics, they might have had a pretty good chance of saving Jane. The paramedics have essentially the same equipment and employ the same life saving techniques we do in the ER, only they would have been able to start using them sooner. No sense debating that now, Jane was dead, another junkie finally at peace.
What we did know was that Jane had taken a massive overdose of something and died. We could see that she had firm breasts, track marks on her arm and a bunch of twenty dollar bills sticking out of the top of her sexy underwear. We figured that she was probably a prostitute as well as a junkie and that the local cops would be able to identify her. Other than an untimely death, the only other odd thing about Jane was she had her pantyhose tied around her waist and up between her legs. Since no one had ever seen anything like that before, they immediately asked me, the street smart social worker, what the deal was. The only thing I could figure out was she had been using her pantyhose to tie off her arm when she shot her drugs. Nothing else seemed likely, and I offered that as the most probable of explanations given the circumstances. It made sense to them; it made sense to me.
We covered her up as we do with all dead people, but she was so tall when we pulled the blanket up over her face, her feet still stuck out. It was a weird pose for a person who had been alive just a few minutes earlier. Jane’s got pretty big feet, I thought, as I turned out the light and went to the phone. It was my job to call the police.
A couple of uniformed cops I knew showed up about a half hour later and took a look at Jane. They had never arrested her, her face wasn’t familiar to them and she had no obvious identifying scars or tattoos. These guys were just the beat cops and they would have to call the homicide detectives, since this was an unexplained death. The coroner would also have to be involved. They took a look at Jane, noticed the tracks, asked about the pantyhose and wrote down a few things. As they left, one of them turned to me and said “What a waste, she really had a nice body. Keep her here for awhile, the homicide guys will be down, maybe they can ID her”.
We were really busy an hour later when the cops in suits showed up. Looking more like businessmen than police officers (aside from the noticeable bulges under their coats), Big Mike and Little Louie walked in like they owned the place. Since these were guys I had known for a long time, I gave them a quick rundown on the events as we knew them and directed them to Room 2 where Jane was finally at peace. I went about doing some other tasks while the homicide detectives did whatever it is they do with dead bodies before they send them to the morgue. A few minutes later, they came out wearing serious expressions.
“Hey Bob,” Big Mike asked, “are you doing the paperwork on this one?”
“Yeah” I answered, “did you get an ID?”
They kept up their grave demeanors for another few seconds until they could no longer hold the laughter in.
“Well, Bob you had the last name right, it’s Doe, but you’ll have to change the paperwork to John.”
They couldn’t contain their glee anymore than we could contain our surprise. How two physicians, two nurses, an ER tech and various other personnel were able to work on a patient for more than half an hour without getting his gender right was beyond me. Then there was the issue of me checking her out in, shall we say, a less than professional manner. John Doe. Major embarrassment.
As soon as the detectives left, we all went back into the room. Unlike us, the cops had done a complete body check, including removing the sexy little panties. With that, we were able to see that the pantyhose hadn’t been used to tie off an arm while injecting drugs like I thought, but to tie off a penis so as to better impersonate a female. To make matters even worse, John Doe wasn’t just your average trans-gender John Doe, he was, and I didn’t say this, the nurse did, Huge John Doe. After that revelation, everyone wanted to come in and see for themselves. Everyone but me. I skulked away feeling pretty stupid. And pretty embarrassed. It was bad enough having sexual feelings for a patient, worse having them for a dead patient, but for Huge John Doe? That would take a long time to get over, particularly on slow nights.