Sunday, April 4, 2010


The first time that I can remember meeting Dennis was on a summer morning many years ago. GQ and I were on the rescue, two 26 yr olds, under-supervised with too much freedom.

The call came in for a snake bite at a car wash. I remember thinking that was kind of odd, although we work in the desert, that district was heavily populated and had been so for some time. The chances of being bit by a snake was extremely rare, even more so for a venomous one. We pulled up to the car wash and found a male, somewhere between 30 and 60 years old, standing next to the pay phone.

We determined that our patient was named Dennis and that the snake bite he was complaining about had occurred 4 years prior to our being called.. We also determined that Dennis was stinking drunk. I mean stinking drunk and stinking and drunk.

Dennis had been on the streets for a while. It was obvious that he had stopped taking care of himself, his instinct of self preservation had long since left him. As this was our first time meeting Dennis, we had him remove his shoe to look at the "snake bite".

Dennis' foot was a mess to say the least.Not only did he have the terminally nasty feet that only a homeless alcoholic can have, but he had some sort of festering, ulcerous wound to the top of his foot. Just guessing, but I don't believe it was ever a snake bite.

We played the game with Dennis on that first encounter. We took his vitals, obtained his info and applied some sort of dressing to the wound. The ambulance arrived and we passed Dennis over to the paramedic.

Over the next few weeks, Dennis became a regular customer. We were usually called out at least once every shift or two. Sometimes Dennis called us, sometimes a passer-by would call. Dennis was always within a few blocks of the station, he was always pissy drunk and he was never quiet. His complaints moved off of the snake bite and became more outlandish. Dennis couldn't shut up. He ran his mouth from the time we arrived until we shut the door to the ambulance. He then started on the ambulance crew. He was never combative, just verbally offensive. He usually managed to insult us all  within a few minutes.

It became harder to take him serious as it became obvious he was a drunk bullshit artist. My patience began to wear thin and, as I had all of his information memorized, calls for Dennis degraded to waiting with him for the ambulance.

We began to hear through the ambulance company, that the downtown hospital's patience was wearing thin as well. They started complaining to the ambulance crews that Dennis should be transported to the county hospital, not to the closest. Dennis however, knew that the ambulance had to take him where he wanted to go and he wanted to go to the downtown hospital.

We didn't see Dennis for a few weeks. Frankly, we didn't miss him. We had assumed that he had moved on or that someone had shanked him. When Dennis did return, we on C shift saw him one more time. It was in front of a hamburger stand, Dennis was laying in the parkway. He was hammered drunk as usual, verbose and unable to walk.

Dennis had a cast on his foot, although he had manged to break it to the point where it was almost worthless. It was filthy dirty and had blood seeping though the plaster.  He had lost his crutches and had a bag of french fries in one hand and a hamburger on the ground next to him. He was running his mouth and manged to piss me off within a second of our arrival.

The ambulance was right behind us and I was far less than polite as we picked his drunk ass up and plopped him on the gurney. He asked for his hamburger and, out of anger and frustration, I told him that he didn't need it.

I was angry that a doctor had taken the time to treat him, repair what damage was done to his foot and cast it. Dennis didn't care enough to even try to help himself by taking care of his foot.  So, I denied him his hamburger. I may have even taken the fries out of his hand and set them on the ground next to the hamburger.

We loaded Dennis into the ambulance and stopped for a minute to tell the ambulance crew about Dennis. As we were standing at the rear of the ambu, a citizen walked over, picked up the hamburger and fries and brought them over to where we were standing.

He told us that he had just bought that burger and fries for Dennis and that he wanted him to have it, whether we felt he needed it or not.

I instantly felt like a total asshole (rightly so) and tried to tell the citizen about Dennis and our history with him. The citizen didn't buy it, Dennis was in need and we were supposed to help him. The citizen left, the doors to the ambulance were closed and Dennis went to the hospital. We never saw nor heard about Dennis again. I can't imagine he is still alive and can't help think that he was deliberately drinking himself to death.

Although we never denied Dennis transport or treatment when he really needed it, I personally could have treated him better, especially during our last encounter. I remember so much about Dennis, I have to think it is because of how I failed Dennis and how I let him get to me. As I am much older now and, hopefully wiser, I like to think that I would behave better should the same situation arise again. Yet, sometimes, I am not sure.

Sorry Dennis. Drunken turd that you were, you deserved better.

Thanks for reading,


  1. Dear Captain,
    I love this story. thank you.

    Happy Easter to you and yours,
    Ann T.

  2. Saw that coming. Had I not been there before, maybe not. I think back to my frustration levels with similar "frequent flyers" during my career and wonder where my head was at. Then I remember that the nickname for the tour I was assigned to was called "Mick at Night", which gives you a little perspective.

    These people are human but their perpetual inability to apply common sense (and maybe make their lives just a little less hellish)to their own situations is very frustrating. After a while, you just become numb to it. But when you get too numb to it, you begin to lose perspective on the fact that these are real people with real problems, and it's up to us to try to at least solve some of the problem and hope they can do the right thing from there.

    Excellent post.