Friday, February 17, 2012

The End of the Stories: Patient B

Thank you to everybody who commented on my hypothetical jail patient scenarios in my post Send Them Away. Here is what happened to Patient B:

Patient B was sent out to the emergency room where he took a swing at the ER doc examining him and later another one at the consulting psychiatrist there (the police grudgingly uncuffed Patient B so the nurse could take vital signs. The police warned them not to.) They started a detox protocol which sedated him but he remained disoriented. The ER doc called the consulting psychiatrist back (who was waiting for Patient B to sober up so he could do an evaluation). The ER doc insisted that the consulting psychiatrist admit the patient to the psychiatry service as soon as possible for detox. The psychiatrist explained that he could not assess the need for admission, if any, until the patient sobered up. The ER doc walked away muttering something quietly under his breath. Several hours later the patient was no longer combative, but he was also no longer responsive. The psychiatrist came by to see if Patient B was sober yet and found him obtunded with a single dilated pupil. Patient B was rushed to radiology for an MRI. His intracranial bleed was caught just in time. After an extended stay on the neurosurgery service he was discharged to a rehabilitation facility.

Meanwhile, the local state's attorney had an attempted murder on his hands. The victim, a local used car dealer, narrowly survived a knife attack when Patient B walked into his girlfriend's apartment and found the car the oil. The girlfriend was unharmed but told the police that Patient B was there in violation of a protective order she had taken out against him two weeks before. Given the serious nature of the charge and the political implications of domestic violence in general, the prosecutor refused to drop the charges even though he knew that Patient B was in the hospital. They held the bail review hearing at the patient's bedside. Patient B was held with a no bail status and a correctional officer was posted at the patient's bedside. Leg irons bound the patient to the bed as he recovered from his neurosurgery. His ex-girlfriend, learning that Patient B had been near death, had an immediate change of heart and got into a fight with the attending officer when she insisted she needed to be at the bedside as well. Hospital security was called when she refused to leave, and she was ultimately taken into custody for disorderly conduct.

Ultimately Patient B was seen by the psychiatry consult liaison service. He was found to have moderately severe short term memory impairments, abstraction problems with difficulty reasoning, expressive aphasia and profound apathy. And he could only walk with assistance. His public defender took one look at Patient B sitting in the wheelchair in court and he knew he would have to request a competency assessment. He also knew Patient B would be found incompetent to stand trial, but not dangerous due to his physical impairments.

Patient B dropped into legal purgatory. He was incompetent to stand trial but could not be admitted to a psychiatric hospital for restoration because he was not dangerous. Even the neurosurgeons couldn't predict how much, if any, of his mental faculties would be regained over the longterm. The state's attorney's office refused to drop the charges because of the seriousness of the offense. When the statutory limit of incompetence was reached, the judge threw out the charges but the state's attorney immediately reindicted the defendant, thus restarting the clock. The case was appealed to the highest court in the state and a final opinion is pending.

Meanwhile, many many years later Patient B spends a few minutes every morning sipping coffee on the front porch of the assisted living facility the nursing home released him to. He hasn't heard from his girlfriend in many years although he has vague fond memories of motorcycle road trips with her hugging him from behind. His housemates---a demented elderly professor of economics and a frail former teacher---see him on the porch and exchange casual greetings. They think he is a shy but likable guy, a quiet but kind person.