Amputated in 1974 after I got shot. I didn’t have the heart to tell the man that he lost that left arm seven years before I was born. Mike is continuing to ask questions about his medical history when Katy and I hear someone scream out inside the building where we’re parked. The man just came out of the same building to start our paperwork. I was here during daylight hours last week, and only the man was here… and I only remember one bedroll.
“Hello?” I shout as we walk into the building.
It’s a woman. She is in the second room of the shotgun double we’re entering.
“Hey, I’m Shamus from homeless outreach, mind if I try to get you housed?”
Big eyes stare up at me from the corner of the room. The woman’s skin is quite dark and there is almost no light. All I can see are her eyes. After I ask if I can indirectly shine my light on her, I make out a woman in her thirties, rocking back and forth, clearly agitated by some internal stimuli.
She agrees to work with us, and Katy lies down on the floor two feet from her to conduct the interview and the intake packet. The act of lying on that floor alone may be enough to warrant canonization. You wouldn’t catch me on it just to earn a client’s trust. It wasn’t until seeing Katy’s lack of a boundary here that I realized how rigid mine can be.
Katy is asking the normal questions. How old are you? What’s your social-security-number/human-barcode? Where did you grow up?
I am less patient. “Let me ask you something that might sound odd. Have you been to a hospital lately?”
I was in the crazy house until 5 months ago.
“Where’d you go from Jackson?”
To Orleans Parish Prison.
“Why were you there?”
Arson. The fire at Claiborne & 1st.
“Did you do it?”
“Didn’t think so.” For what it is worth, we later drove past the intersection and found nothing that looked burned.
“What’s your diagnosis?”
“Got any now?”
“Want me to help you get more?”
Personally, I can’t say I’ve read too much about the latest incarnation of whatever national health care bill is being proposed that will still leave between five and fifteen million people uninsured. Just somebody figure out how to get this woman some damn Seroquel.
“What about drugs?”
Crack. I like crack.
Okay. I realize there’s not a lot of sympathy out there for crack cocaine addicts. But I can understand it when a woman has been without a regular place to live for seventeen years, has been dumped by the psych hospital back into jail and from jail back to the street. Sure this addiction may well be a lifelong battle, but I’m willing to bet she’d be closer to clean if she had her psychiatric meds… and maybe a house or apartment with a locking door and without a hole in the sidewall large enough for a body to pass through.
At this point, with her continuing to rock and her head nodding side to side regularly, I realize she’s experiencing a lot more than me and Katy. “Are you hearing voices other than my own right now?”
Yes. They’re in the wall.
“Does the Seroquel help you with those voices? Help you sleep?”
Then something unusual happens. This woman with absolutely no affect, rocking slowly as she tries to quiet the voices in her own head and focus instead on my voice in her ears turns those big eyes up at me and asks me to look in the fire place by her feet. I take my Mag-Lite, shine it over top of a piece of plywood that is covering the bottom half of the fireplace, and see that the fireplace goes all the way through to the other half of the double. “What do you want me to look for in here?” All I can see is bricks and a McDonald’s wrapper.
I’m just scared of it, scared something is in there.
The voices. Either they’re in there, too, or they’re telling her that something is in there. Remember the boogeyman that was in your closet as a child? Or that hand you were sure would reach up from under the bed if your foot happened to hang off its edge at night? Those things or something like them are in that fireplace waiting for her.
“No, dear, nothing in there. Want me to cover it up all the way for you?”
Katy pushes forward with the rest of the intake packet. I find a smaller piece of paneling that I can wedge between the mantle and the plywood covering the bottom half so that the fireplace is completely covered. Mike is still outside with the man completing his intake. The police pull up and I hear them ask Mike what he’s doing (there is a crack house on the corner of the block 150-feet away). Mike laughs and says, “Paperwork.” The police drive off.
Funny. We hate paperwork. But when you’ve got a woman listening to voices two rooms back, and a coworker also doing paperwork while a third attempts to eliminate a fireplace and some voices, the only answer you have is paperwork.
Not sure what to make of that. I guess it is the one part of our job that is clearly legal at 12:37am. It is the one answer we can give without clearly exposing our clients and their living quarters.
Paperwork… is that synonymous with: Oh nothing Officer, just trying to fix a few things where other systems of care failed?
Or maybe: Oh nothing Officer, just trying to figure out how to get this woman some Seroquel. Oddly enough, they don’t sell it at the crack house 150-feet behind you that you drove right past.
Or maybe: Oh nothing Officer, just trying to figure out if she is severely enough disabled or sick enough to warrant help.
Ah, yes, paperwork. That’s what we do.