Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Safety of his Car

He's dressed in dirty blue jeans with a urine stained front. His plaid flannel shirt has seen better days. His head is covered with a blue baseball cap. He apologizes for his appearance. He's never been to the clinic before and he's here because he's had a headache for a week. I take his blood pressure and it's high, no doubt the reason for his headache. He tells me he was told he has high blood pressure a year ago at the emergency room but he hasn't taken any medication for this. 

He tells me he's safe in his car. He's been living in it since his wife and kids left him. He says apologetically, "I never used to look like this. I know I don't look very good now. I don't like to be around people or open spaces." He tells me about the voices he hears in his head. He knows they aren't real and he constantly has to remind himself of that.  I watch his eyes dart around the room like a caged tiger. I know he wants to escape. "Have you seen a counselor?" I ask him. He says no and tells me he knows he needs to be on medication but he can't afford it and it's too hard for him to leave the safety of his car. 

"Where do you get your food?" I ask him, imagining him waiting in a crowded food bank line and wondering how he can tolerate that. "I steal my food." "How do you do that?" What follows is a detailed explanation of how he regularly steals his food from the grocery store. "I bring in an empty paper bag from that store and I start filling it. I usually pick one part of the store each time I go. If I go to the produce section, I make sure no one who's working there sees me. Then I walk towards the check-out line and just walk out with another customer like I know what I'm doing." "And you've never been caught?" "No. But sometimes I think they know I do this and just look the other way."

He tells me his car was ticketed for being parked too long so he has to move it. He doesn't know where he'll go. He's afraid since he can't pay the ticket, his car will be towed soon. "But that's your home" I say to him. I tell him I want him to meet with the social worker after his doctor's appointment and he agrees. I can tell he's been here too long; too long away from the safety of his car. 

I go to check on him after his appointment with the doctor but he's gone. He leaves before he can have his blood drawn. He leaves before he can be treated for his headache. He leaves before he can meet with the social worker. 

I haven't seen him since.

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