We have a guy right now that's got it all figured out. He has heart failure, and some sort of cardiomyopathy that keeps his heart from pumping well, and in order to treat this, we need to help him remove more fluid than he takes in, preferably rather quickly so he can re-equilabrate. Simple, right? So why does he roam the halls at night drinking tons of water from outside his room and stealing other people's food?
On the surface, it would seem mad, but deep down it displays the hallmarks not of madness but of mad genius. Each time someone tells him to be compliant, he says, oh, yes, I know, bless you, I'll do better. And then each night he goes and drinks more. A styrofoam cup filled with hospital ice here, someone's leftover milk carton there.
You see, if he's in the hospital, he has free TV, a comfortable bed with housekeeping, a nurse to help him take care of everything, and he gets to stay away from work because he has a decompensation of a serious medical problem. It's a five-star hotel with a craftmatic adjustable bed and an on-demand minibar of narcs.
The team this morning noted, accurately, that even if we discharge him he'll be back in the ED in a couple days 'feeling puffy' and wanting admission, so if we kick him out, he just becomes a problem a few days later for someone else.
Where's our out? Here's the mad genius part. He never openly defies anyone, and he never asks to leave. He says he wants to get better. This takes away the option of letting him leave against medical advice, one out for a troublesome patient. But he doesn't want to leave.
He's always pleasant to the attending and usually to the resident, and always agrees that his health is important, and that he has to save his urine so we can measure it and comply with the fluid restrictions ordered. Thus, we have no options we normally have with a defiant patient. We have no way to restrain or sedate him, or put a catheter in him to measure the urine output he refuses to save. We literally cannot force someone to get treatment unless it's an 'emergency', which, currently, it's not. Further insight can be gained through his one persistent request: a disability letter so he can get out of work. He knows the hospital gig is limited, even in the current climate. He has to have a long-term retirement plan. He's found the gravy train, and it's us. He's playing us. The team knows it.
Our system, for all it's good intention, facilitates this cycle. He has to be seen if he comes back to the ED even if we kick him out. We know if he leaves he'll just drink, do cocaine, and eat salty foods until he 'decompensates' again. I suggest a sitter to make sure he stays in his room, and I'm told that we don't have the staffing for it, because apparently it's better to just have him in the hospital for an endless amount of time. He's totally non-compliant but pleasant, thus we continue, night after night, him wandering the halls undoing everything done during the day. He's been here for almost 2 weeks, and another hospital before that, working on getting his disability in air-condintioned comfort, with top notch nursing staff and a team of dedicated doctors.
It's good to know that if we kicked him out and he got really sick again, there would be a wealth of potential legal advocates to represent his interests. It's great to know that our system supports this poor gentleman in such dire need. God bless America.