Only in New York

I work in a busy emergency dept. in NYC. The atmosphere can get pretty intense, my colleagues and I try to use humor to lighten things up. One way we do this is by giving patients pet names. "Scratchy" a regular homeless patient, was one of the people for which this was true, until recently that is... Nurses Announcements Archive Article


Only in New York

It was 3 AM on the first day of Summer in New York City, I was taking the subway home after working a grueling 12 hours in the emergency department. You must be wondering about the kind of people I run into on the train at that hour. Up until recently, it wasn't anyone I would consider particularly special. But that changed after I was nearly robbed for my phone and who else but "Scratchy" a familiar (homeless) patient, came to my rescue.

I was playing Sudoku on my phone as I typically do during the commute. Scratchy was sitting on the opposite end of the empty train car carrying a tattered plastic bag and as usual, scratching his head. His name isnt really Scratchy of course, but thats the name we gave him in the ED after he became a regular admittee. Every time I saw him on the train I wondered if he recognized me from work, but figured he didn't.

I was mid-game when suddenly a young man wriggled in as the train doors were shutting close. It was a Saturday so I figured he was coming from a club or something but in retrospect it was odd he chose to stand up with so many available seats. He turned his back looking at his reflection in the dark window. I only had a few more stops to go so I refocused on my game.

At the next stop and at the brink of Sudoku victory, I felt my phone violently snatched from my hands, the young man had lunged at me and was trying to run off. I yelled "stop!" but couldn't move. He was darting for the exit when suddenly he dropped like a ton of bricks. His head was nearly pinched between the closing doors but all I could do was watch, I was physically frozen.

"He's having a seizure put him on his side!"

yelled Scratchy but I couldn't get up, my legs felt like wet noodles, my head was spinning. Finally Scratchy came rushing to the young man and carefully positioned him on his side,

"Ain't you a nurse, why don't you help him?!" scolded Scratchy.

I'm not sure if it was realizing that Scratchy could talk (he never said a coherent word before) or if him knowing medical procedure for seizures snapped me out of shock, but at some point I woke up and went into RN mode.

I quickly placed my nursing bag at the base of the subway pole to protect the young man from bashing his head,

"YES I am a Nurse...I was scared, he tried to rob me didnt you see!" I retorted glaring at Scratchy.

"Anyway, how'd you know he was having a seizure?"

He ignored me, eyes planted on the young man who was coming to a calm. During all this time the train was slowly elevating from underground. The whole ordeal probably lasted a couple of minutes but felt like a lifetime. As the train screeched upward I could see the silver moon glowing over the brick buildings, "only in New York" I muttered. Suddenly my phone rang with my husbands ringtone. I got on the floor searching but couldn't find it. I stood up frustrated to find Scratchy with his hand out, my phone in his palm.

"By the way, my name is Jerome not Scratchy" he said "Your phone was under the boy".

I felt my face flush as a wave of shame came over me. He did recognize me from the ED and he knew we called him Scratchy. I took my phone and explained everything to my husband who somehow was able to meet us on the platform with the authorities in just minutes. I assessed and then warned the young man before the police took him away. I also apologized to Jerome and thanked him for everything. We offered to get him food but he refused. We waited with him for the next train, when one finally arrived he got on, turned back to us and said

"That boy, his name's Mark. He got epilepsy, like me. Met him once in the hospital you work at".

The doors closed and the train pulled out of sight leaving my husband and I standing in humbled silence. On our way home I reflected on how callous my colleagues and I have become. The ED can be a really intense place. We try to have a sense of humor and although we don't mean any harm when we come up with these pet names, we must keep in mind that our patients are not pets. They are human beings in our care and they deserve respect.

I don't take the train home anymore, I also haven't seen Jerome since then. As long as he's safe I'll consider that a good thing and pretend that he's off doing superhero things in the subway like saving lives and cell phones. As a matter of fact, I wouldn't be surprised if that tattered plastic bag he carries is actually where he keeps his cape.

Emergency RN

1 Article   186 Posts

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tnbutterfly - Mary, BSN

91 Articles; 5,918 Posts

Specializes in Peds, Med-Surg, Disaster Nsg, Parish Nsg.

Thank you for sharing this fantastic article, which is a great reminder to us that our patients are individuals with their own life-stories and challenges. We should always treat all with respect.

There but for the grace of God, go I.

Specializes in Pediatrics, Emergency, Trauma.
Thank you for sharing this fantastic article, which is a great reminder to us that our patients are individuals with their own life-stories and challenges. We should always treat all with respect.

There but for the grace of God, go I.

I second THIS. :yes:

BSNbeauty, BSN, RN

1,939 Posts

What an intriguing story, with a great lesson. So many lessons to be learned, from your article. Glad you were ok.


167 Posts

Very nice article and as another posted, a great reminder to always treat our patients with respect... whether in their presence, behind closed doors, or when we think they're not listening or understanding.

gonzo1, ASN, RN

1,739 Posts

Specializes in ED, ICU, PSYCH, PP, CEN.

What a scarey, but wonderful encounter. I know it was lifechanging for you. Thanks for sharing a valuable lesson.

What an amazing story with a very important lesson. Thank you so much for sharing this, I will be sure to remember your story as I practice.


15 Posts

Thanks for the reminder. With all our going-ons and our hectic lives of caregivers..... We forget that we are suppose to be CARE givers.


Humbled and brought back down to Earth

RNperdiem, RN

4,592 Posts

He reminds a bit of "slim". When that homeless man, so well known to the ED, came to our unit. His most frequent visitors were the nurses and doctors who knew him so well. All the get well wishes came from the staff. I never saw any other kind of visitor. One of the docs said that Slim came to the ED more often than the residents.


2 Posts

Beautiful! I remember when my children were little I used to take them everywhere on the train. For a mother, this is so hard when you have to carry a child in a carriage and trying to hold the other with one hand. People usually go about their way even when they see you with the carriage but this homeless man became so upset to see this, he grabbed my toddler and carry her down the steps. I was scared at first but realized his intent. He refused the money as well and went back up the steps. They are humans and we in the US should become morally responsible fighting for their human rights.


304 Posts

This is a beautiful story. Makes you realize that there is always some good in bad situations, angels are amongst us. I am glad that you did some reflection, speaks to your heart being in the right place. That young man will probably do some reflecting of his own, hopefully. Keep up the good work, your are a blessing and a super hero in your own right. Peace.

Not Your Nurse

1 Article; 186 Posts

Specializes in Emergency.

Thank you all very much :)

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