The early morning sun had yet to break the horizon as we approached the two family home in the heart of South Providence. Places like this are everywhere in the neighborhoods, well kept multi-family homes, some a little dated, others freshly painted with ornate metal gates adorning the driveways. There was no gate here, just an old Ford parked next to the house, with a wounded combat veteran licence plate on the back.
A trend has resurfaced in this neighborhood. Somebody buys a two or three family home, Mom and pop live on the ground floor, the kids who own the place occupy the second and if available the third apartment is rented, sometimes to another family member, to help foot the bill. My own family started out like this, it actually sounds kind of nice. Absentee landlords still exploit the poor folks who settle here, their homes obviously lacking the TLC needed to maintain the old places.
I walked into the home. The old folks lived on the first floor. It looked like they had lived here for decades. Slumped in a kitchen chair was our patient, an eighty-five year old veteran named Joe. Engine 11 had arrived first, an IV was already established, vital signs taken and hi-flow oxygen being delivered through a non re-breather. Joe had tried to take a sip of his morning coffee, felt sudden weakness and spilled it all over his crisp, white t-shirt. There was obvious facial droop, and no strength on his left side when he squeezed my hands.
His wife of fifty years stood by, nervously wiping the spilled coffee from the green linoleum floor. “He goes to the VA,” she said.
As the guys from the 11’s and Adam helped Joe into the stair chair, having to strap him tight so he wouldn’t tip to the left I took his wife to the side. I hated doing it.
“When did you notice something different?” I asked.
“Right before I called you, about ten minutes ago. He was fine, drinking his coffee like he does every day, then he dropped it and couldn’t tell me what was wrong.”
“I think Joe is having a stroke,” I said as gently and quickly as I could. If we get him to the proper facility the damage can be stopped. We can help him but the VA isn’t the best place for something like this.
She started to argue, insurance reasons maybe, familiarity more likely, but saw the urgency in my gaze and relented.
“I’ll stay here and clean up,” she replied, nervously wiping the kitchen table where the coffee stained paper sat, opened to the Sports Section.
In the truck Joe was in the stretcher, listing to the left.
I reassessed his vital signs and tried to get him to speak. He tried valiantly but was frustrated and unable to articulate his thoughts.
As we sped to the ER I gave him the news. A wounded WWII vet deserved the truth.
“Joe, you are having a stroke. There are treatments available and we’re within the time frame. We can stop the damage, you’re not done fighting just yet.”
His right hand gripped mine fiercely, he made eye contact, then he closed his eyes. We rode to the hospital in silence, him lost in his thoughts, me hoping I wasn’t witnessing his last battle.