Samuel Parker lay in his bed, the sheet pulled up to cover his lower face, leaving only the top of his head and his eyes visible. I approached his bedside, pulled the curtain around us and greeted him with a breezy, “Good morning, Mr. Parker. I’m Dr. Walsh.” His eyes, a moment ago relaxed, almost sleepy, widened with a look of streetwise suspicion.
“You here to do something on me?” he asked. “Are you one of them new interns? “
“Yes, to both questions,” I answered bravely, sensing that he could see straight into my muddled brain.
“How are you today?” I asked.
“Right now I’m good,” he said. “But it depends on what you’re planning to do next.”
“Well,” I said. “The veins in your arms and hands are clotted off because of your drug use, so we need to put a catheter into the big vein in your neck. Then we can draw out blood when we need to, plus give you intravenous fluids and medicines.”
“You mean the jugular vein?”
“Why, yes,” I responded, and looked at him more closely.
“How many of these have you done before?” he asked, his eyes probing mine like searchlights.
Damn, I’m caught, I thought. So I varnished the truth. “Two,” I said. “And they’ve both been successful.”
“On the first stick?” he replied.
What is it with this guy? Why is he asking all these questions?
“Yes,” I dissembled, remembering that I’d needed help on both occasions.
“So may I explain what I’m going to do?” I asked.
“Go ahead, man.”
My mind went blank, then rallied and explained to him the details of external jugular vein access, at the same time rehearsing them to myself. Place the head and neck lower than the body, locate the vein in the neck, clean the skin, inject novocaine, turn his head away, puncture the vein a short distance above the collarbone, and insert the catheter.
By this time I was sweating as if I’d been in a steam bath. My hands felt weak, ineffectual. “Everything okay, doc? You sure you’ve done this? Because I can help you,” he said. “I’ve made this stick a few times myself.”
“What?” I said, and God help me, a sense of relief welled up.
“Sure,” he said. “So I turn my head to the left to give you a better look. Then I bear down and you stick in the needle. Simple. Just go high enough that you don’t puncture my lung. We’re like a team, man. I should’ve been a doctor.”
“Thanks, doc,” he said when we were finished. “This will last awhile, won’t it?”
“Yes, “ I said. “If we take care of it.”
“Don’t worry,” he said. “I’ll take good care of it.”
Later that day, Mr. Parker quietly left the hospital and returned to the streets of the city. I never saw him again.
Jack Wills was born prematurely and raised, also prematurely, in a small town in central Pennsylvania. A retired physician, his passions are writing, music, his wonderful family, and staying alive to see what happens next.
Image credit: Jesse Orrico on Unsplash
Read more from Cleaver Magazine’s Issue #16.