He was aboriginal, addicted, blind, angry, scared and always wielded a large hunting knife swung around in front of him almost all the time he moved instead of using a white cane like other sight challenged people. He was also somewhat imposing and very scary-looking. You could hear him coming and you could see the people running away. The guy was nuts.
For the first few months, of course, we all just gave him the room he seemed to require and he came to the clinic, ate some soup and left. In a way, being visited by a screaming, high, blind and angry Indian armed to kill became a common occurrence. It was my job to make sure that he didn’t hurt anyone but, in the process of following him from a relatively safe distance, he came to know I was there. At first he would turn and slash his way towards me but he was easy to evade and I would attempt to explain that I was just there to help and keep people safe. I told him to go about his business, ignore me and he would not have a problem.
And, for the most part, that was the way it played out for weeks. The hardest part was that he was always under the influence of something and so sometimes I felt like we could communicate, other times I was sure he had no idea who the voice talking to him was. Each visit required a new risk assessment and an altered approach to getting him in and out of the clinic safely.
The real tragedy was that his blindness was the result of an opaque layer of skin growing over his eyes. According to the doctors, that condition can be improved completely with relatively simple day surgery. I began trying to explain that to him. Keeping a safe distance most of the time, of course.
One day, he was eating his soup and his knife was beside him. I sat down and started talking. He did not pick up the knife. He barely acknowledged anyone but his leaving the knife alone spoke volumes. I found out his name and worked the day surgery angle and, to make a long story short, and it took a long, long time, he agreed to go to St. Paul’s Hospital to try to get a sense of what I was talking about.
I had told the staff there of his condition and his mental state. I asked them to do this procedure without an appointment because my guy was too erratic in every way. I would bring him when I could and, for the sake of all the patients they had that day, it was in everyone’s best interests if they got him in and out as fast as possible. No waiting. No chit chat. We come, they operate, we leave all in the least possible time. It only took one visit with him to cement the deal. St Paul’s was on side.
I must have had him in my car and almost to the hospital door a dozen times before he would bolt and run screaming and swinging his knife into the downtown streets. He was terrified. At least twice, maybe four times, I actually got him in to the reception area and they were expediting him as they promised when he freaked out and took flight. Each time was dramatic, frightening for the staff and, to be honest, a bit edgy even for me. I was getting to the point of giving up.
Of course, Skid Row sorts everyone eventually and he was found dead by his own knife a few weeks after our last effort. Someone had simply used the weapon most handy and dispatched him. He was a miserable, angry man that even a mother would stop loving. I had pretty much run out of my sense of duty. I had maybe one more effort left in me, but maybe not. I’ll never know.
The reality was he was addicted, nuts, violent and a very unsympathetic character. He had nothing going for him. His destiny was written in his eyes. But, that was the thing. The eyes were so bad that they must have been impairing his vision for years if not decades. His knife wielding act together with the yelling and screaming was actually an effective way to get places. If I could get his eyes fixed, there was every chance that he might have led a better life.
He didn’t. I didn’t. And he died. No one was to blame. By the time we encountered him in Skid Row, he had been crazy and addicted way too long. Maybe when the eye disease began, an early intervention might have changed everything. But he lived with it, he adapted to it and he adopted incredibly mad, destructive life skills to try to cope with it. Didn’t work
The doctors suggested that just a few hours would have changed everything.