Tuesday, July 22, 2008

On Responsibility

Talking to the mother of one of our patients today was hard work. She was on the end of the phone, in a tropical hideaway. Her relative was with us for the second time in three days, brought by family friends.

The first visit followed a fit, but we knew they had epilepsy, and there was nothing unusual in this. Even if it was, as she put it, 'a big fit'.

Today was for an overdose. We ran the medical ruler over the patient. All clear, no ill effects, the recommended observation period passing with incident. The headshrinkers came down and opined. No need for sectioning, no need for admission. Community support in place.

The phone call was hard work because, after all this, I proposed to discharge the patient. It was half five in the after noon. 'So you're just going to put them out in the street?' she spluttered; I allowed that, while that's not exactly how I would phrase it, we were going to discharge the patient.

'But getting home means taking buses, and trains...'

The patient was well over the age of 21, living independently, and had been taking public transport, unaccompanied, for some years.

I just know there'll be trouble from this, but I'm not sure where they think their parental responsibility ends, and mine, as Emergency Physician, ends. I think what they wanted was the patient detained, possibly encased in cotton wool. The outrage, that we would not admit them for either their chronic, stable medical condition, or for the psychological flair up, or indeed because the patient's keys were at a friend's house, was palpable.

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