I was unprepared to deal with a homeless patient today. I won’t be tomorrow.

I met a woman today who was well-groomed, articulate, insightful and undeniably intelligent. She provided succinct responses and understood the matter at hand. Our ability to treat her, though, will likely be derailed in two weeks when she will once again become homeless.

In the midst of a booming job market in my area lies a cluster of people who are unable to find work — either due to transportation issues, not having a home address or living with circumstances that envelop and suffocate their ability to thrive in our society.

She wakes up every morning on a quest to find a place to sleep that night. She knows about a public building with a broken lock in the entryway, the back of a school and even has her own tent. She knows where she can probably get away with tenting and when the police won’t knock down her abode. She is working on sobriety and knows that being homeless required her to be drunk every day. She cannot live homeless while sober as it is unbearable. She has two children, one divorce, and an alcoholic fiancé. She actively works on sobriety with a clarity and determination not often seen in this homeless population. She is educated, motivated, and could soar above the clouds yet is tethered by her lack of means. Her financial backer isn’t local. She sold her car.  She has nightmares which can only be quieted by alcohol or medications, both of which leave her exhausted by morning.

She volunteers her time and plans to go to school in the fall. She looks like every other 40-something woman I see. Beneath her normal exterior lies a darkness and a depth, a cynicism that is probably well-earned. She gave me reason to pause today. She made me think. She made me mad. She made me want to fix things with my wallet. She made me realize that I can’t.

We are so very different and yet so much the same. We have big dreams and hopes. We love our children. We donate our time. We strive to make the world a better place. And yet we are different.

I will go home to my family. I will feed my dog. I will clean my car. I will work too hard, eat too much, chase the kids, and enjoy the last of the summer sunshine. I will not think about where I will sleep tonight. I will not think about where I will get my next meal. I will not think about why my kids are not with me. I will hold them close and squeeze them harder tonight. I will be grateful. I will go to sleep. I will forget this feeling in a week or so.

Like so many others, I will want to make a change but will become distracted by life and this opportunity will slip away. Like so many others, I think big but cannot transform my thoughts into action. I am stuck in optimistic hope without realistic goals. I discovered today that this no longer satisfies me. I was unprepared to deal with a homeless patient today. I won’t be tomorrow.

Seema Khosla is a pulmonary physician.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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