4:00(am) For some reason, I’m up. Try to go back to sleep, but these days, when I’m up my brain starts immediately. There is no longer that period between waking and sleeping when it’s easy to roll over and doze a bit longer. There is no gradual. That stopped I don’t know how long ago. A few weeks I guess. Four hours of sleep isn’t enough for my immune system to keep up, so I worry about that for a bit.
5:30 After about 45 minutes of staring at the ceiling, get up and out of bed. I manage to sit still long enough to do a 5-holds exercise and that seems to sort my nervous system out. I feel a bit calmer, but I’m still more activated than is probably healthy. Best I can do right now. I’m up for the day in that weird tired but wired state. I potter around the house. Make coffee. I quit 2 months ago, but today is a coffee day.
6:45 I make food for the day. If I don’t bring food to work, I don’t eat because everything is closed except for fast food. I don’t eat fast food hardly ever. I won’t feel good if I make the exception today, so I make something instead. Takes my mind off of things for a bit. It’s raining out. I think about how I like the rainy days better because I get less angry. Fewer people outside.
8:30 Arrive at our headquarters to pack up for our run. I’m working on the van today, street medicine. Van days go by quickly, they’re more varied than the bus stops are, and pretty much all the people we see are living on the streets, in encampments and under viaducts. We pack warm clothes, socks, hygiene kits, food, blankets and sleeping bags, a couple tents, needles and sharps containers, and condoms along with all of our medical gear and medications.
Right now, everyone needs food and they want to know who can help them get into the hotel and YMCA rooms that are supposed to be opening up to get people into shelter until C19 ends. The answer is we’re unsure. If they call 311, we were told last week, the city will come take them to a shelter or room. It’s sporadic, though. Lots of them call us to see if we can help them with that, which we can’t. So they wait. Sometimes they yell at us about it, but I’m hoping to avoid that today. The people we see need a lot more these days because there’s no hustling going on, so they don’t have any income. Alot of them are getting dope sick.
I’m working the van more often lately because we have more runs, and we are prioritizing medical so we can check on people and make sure they’re ok, not getting sick. I worry about that alot.
My coworker and I head out.
9:45 We stop at an apartment up on the north side to pick up food. A nice gentleman and his kid have made and donated to us three grocery bags of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
10:10 Our first stop to see clients. We park in the lot of a mall. It’s Saturday, but the entire parking lot is empty, of course. We’re right off a major road, but there’s not much traffic. I’m grateful for that. It means people are inside. I realize I spend an inordinate amount of time being angry about people being out of their houses, like this is just a vacation or something. Right now I’m ok though. Light traffic helps.
We cross the road and venture into a park next to a river. The river bank is steep and muddy. My coworker and I are looking for 2 clients who live there. I’ve never met them; he tells me they keep to themselves. We are checking on them to make sure they’re ok.
We see the place they live and shout out. Eventually a young woman answers. She’s just woken up and she’s wearing pajamas and a housecoat. She follows us to the van to get supplied with food and needles. They both have been staying out of public. She tells me she needs some stomach medicine for her boyfriend, and also he has a wound on his arm that needs looking at and he’s not able to get out of bed. I grab some supplies and follow her to their place.
Their place is about 8 feet by 8 feet. There is an opening that faces the river. I almost wipe out on the embankment twice on the way down because it’s been raining and the embankment is muddy. I get to her boyfriend, who is lying on a mattress, smoking a cigarette. He looks high and doesn’t look thrilled that she had me come look at him.
We talk a bit, I ask him a bunch of questions. He won’t let me look at his belly, but he lets me look at his arm, which has open wounds from wrist to elbow. The smell is not optimal. I clean and dress his wounds and dispense some meds for his stomach, I tell him he’ll have to go to the hospital soon if it doesn’t improve. He’s on his third round of antibiotics in the past month, I think. This stop took almost an hour. When I get back to the van, I’m freezing.
11:00 We drive downtown from there. A man has called to say he needs some food and a new sleeping bag, and some clothes if we have any, so we head in his direction.
11:20 Arrive downtown. There’s nobody out on the streets, the new norm. It’s surreal. Usually our clients are out hustling, but since there’s no people, there’s nobody to hustle money from. We find our guy and take care of his needs. A sleeping bag, a sweatshirt, food. He takes off his shoe to show me his foot, which has been hurting. Nothing scary, just a wart I tell him and give him some tylenol. I tell him I don’t have any medicine for that on the van, which may or may not be true…I couldn’t find any. I recommend duct tape, and we move on.
12:00 We are stopping at the bus because there isn’t a provider with them today. I’m the main provider on the bus and I’ve arranged to be on the van today only by agreeing to stop by the bus and see if anyone needs to see a nurse.
The stop they’re at is on the west side, and is one of the most difficult. Even on the best days, it’s chaotic. Lately, it’s been much more so. I see a guy who has a tooth abscess and can’t get into see the dentist since they’re all closed. He gets antibiotics and some numbing gel, ibuprofen. I see an older woman–she’s housed but comes to the bus for food. She tells me it’s getting ugly out in her world. People are getting desperate, she tells me, they are angrier and she’s afraid to go out. I don’t ask her to elaborate, I give her extra food so she doesn’t have to come to the bus at the next stop. I also give her some tylenol for her arthritis.
1:00 We stop by and pick up harm reduction supplies from one of our sister organizations. Of course we chat about how weird things are and how desperate people are getting. I tell them about my client that died last weekend who overdosed on bad heroin, likely it was fentanyl. I let them know what area he was in so they can let their clients know to be on the lookout and to be careful.
1:15 We’re on the near south side, and we drive to an encampment where a really nice gentleman lives next to the tracks with his dogs. The dogs go crazy when they see us, and he comes out. He’s a character. He’s talking to us about how things are in his world, the world of homeless people in his neighborhood, right now. Things are getting more difficult for sure. He’s keeping to himself mostly, and he keeps a healthy distance away from us. He has a 6 foot long stick he said he’s been using to poke people who are too close out on the street, and then starts laughing. We have a nice chat. Tells us the cops are bringing him food and checking on him. He’s friendly. He’s careful, but not frightened of the virus. He doesn’t use, so he’s not sick, has been keeping well and away from people. But, he says, he doesn’t much care for people anyways. People still laugh out there, which is something I often forget lately.
1:45 It’s time to start rolling back home. We ride past a guy in a wheelchair on a major thoroughfare. It’s a bit busier than most, and he’s hustling. We park in a lot nearby and my coworker goes to see if he needs anything and they head back to the van. He needs a dressing change for a wound on his leg. He’s feeling fine, no cough or fever, just needs the dressing change.
I take off the dressing he has on–ace wraps over a dirty t-shirt. The wound goes from ankle to knee. I can see the bone and the tissue has started to turn black. The smell is overwhelming. He tells me he knows he needs to go into the hospital, and he also knows that means having the leg amputed. Right now, it’s difficult to get seen in the ER, he says, and I tell him I think his leg would put him at the front of the line. He’s not so sure. Next week, I promise, he says. I wrap it up and given him some tylenol. Feels kind of useless.
2:30 We get back to the shop and unload the gear. Run into the bus staff and find that the second stop they did today wasn’t busy at all and I’m relieved. I replace all the things I used, but I have difficulty finding some stuff. I always feel guildy leaving work for the next person, but the next person is my supervisor. He’s working tomorrow morning and he doesn’t get fussed by that kind of stuff. Also, I’m too tired to care.
3:00 I drive home and talk to my supervisor on the way, giving him an update. I ask him to check on the two wounds later in the week and how I think they were both going to get septic. Nobody had covid symptoms today, which was good. Mostly, everybody was feeling ok.
4:00 I get home and shower, and then I collapse on the couch. My brain is too tired from lack of sleep to feel very much, and that’s just fine with me.
I fall asleep for 20 minutes sitting up.
5:00 I get up and make some food. I text my neighbor to see if she wants some because neighbors should do that. My neighbor and I sit in the hallway outside our front doors, 10 feet from each other and chat while we eat. It’s nice to have a human interaction outside of work and I get really sad.
6:00 I spend the evening trying unsuccessfully to read. I listen to some music and do some writing. I think about how, even with the virus getting worse, regular life is still going on underneath it all. Arm wounds, leg wounds, heroin overdoses, mouth abscesses. People living their ordinary and difficult lives during extraordinary and difficult circumstances.
9:30 For the first time today, I cry.
It’s time for a new day, I’m tired of this one.