It was the dinner hour on a typically long Wednesday at Clare House and the knock on the door broke the last hour of quiet before the donation hour began. Answering the door, I found Ralph, a regular in the food line, leaning on the side of the house, the bag of groceries he received four hours earlier at his side.
Obviously intoxicated, he asked for a ride home. Clearly, he could not walk the several blocks to his house and, given his history of literally collapsing in the middle of busy streets, to send him on his way would have been risky. The decision was easy. What followed was more challenging.
As we moved toward my car, Ralph suddenly announced that he wanted to go to the hospital emergency room. “My roommate’s an alcoholic and he won’t let me get any sleep if I go back to my place,” he explained. Not sure if Ralph was going to pass out or vomit in the car, let alone become belligerent when the hospital sent him on his way, I began the drive trying to figure out what to do in the worst-case scenario—of which there seemed to be several.
We parked in the hospital lot. Ralph staggered out of the car and we made it through the door of the emergency room. I immediately caught the eye of a police officer on duty, figuring this fellow could be very important in a few seconds. As I was schmoozing the cop, a young lady walked out from behind the admission counter. “Ralph,” she said in a friendly, welcoming tone, “what can we do for you?” Ralph, who was wobbling as he struggled to remain upright, replied, “I need a bed.” “Have a seat, we’ll have it ready in a bit and you can keep your groceries with you,” she said.
Until that moment, I thought I had seen just about everything. But now I learned that Ralph knew exactly what he was talking about. The good folks at the hospital knew of his problem and realized he’d be better off drying out in a safe bed than on the pavement of a busy street.
Just another day at Clare House, I thought as I drove away.