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There but for grace: Part II

Following My Muse
Robert T. Nanninga
Surf City Times
February 5, 2004


In the last installment of Following my Muse I wrote of Little Michael's struggle with mortality. Leaving readers with an image of Michael shivering in the cold on E. Street, I knew not how the story would end, other that it would end soon. This however was not enough; as many have asked that I continue the story of Little Michael. Knowing there is a lesson for us all in this sad story, I reluctantly oblige.

The last I had seen Michael was the following morning ambling down the Coast Highway, head bowed, movements unsteady. Coming to work I was informed earlier that morning he had been witnessed in the downtown laundry mat speaking gibberish. Word on the street was he had taken a fall. A busy day at work meant there was little time to worry about Michael. Sadly, as with most of the transient/homeless/indigent population, out sight means out of mind.

Flash forward to the following Monday. Popping into my place of employment, before another meeting, my employer the ever kind Crystal Wells, asked if I would accompany her and her husband to Moonlight Creek to talk Michael out of the reeds, and get him to the veterans hospital for the care he so desperately needed. Of course I said yes, my other meeting could wait.

Parking Steve's Mercedes SUV (yes irony abounds in this story,) on Third Street. We went about looking for Michael, only to find him collapsed against the park sign, surrounded by other street folk. His condition had significantly worsened, still talking gibberish, and promising to help tomorrow. We tried to convince him there was no tomorrow. Crystal tried pleading "If not for yourself, then do it for me." Steve tried reason, "Come on Buddy you need to see a doctor, and we're willing to take you." He was not convinced.

I tried my hand at convincing him to accept help. "Michael, your friends are worried, but you say you're O.K. So why not go with them, see a doctor, and put everyone's mind at ease. The worse thing that could happen is you get a few meals, a night out of the cold, and a check up." Still not convinced. Steve again, " So how about a hotel? No doctors, but a warm bed, a shower, and a chance to regain your strength. Michael liked that idea.

Two days later I was told Michael was in Rehab, where doctors believed Michael has very little time left. Six months tops. Next news was Michael had been moved to Tri-City hospital for care, as he didn't need rehab, having digressed way beyond such conversations. At Tri-City he received immediate attention for cirrhosis, ascites, and anemia, which required a blood transfusion of 5 units. As of this writing Michael is waiting for a spot in skilled nursing facility, as he has nowhere else to go, except back on the streets.

Processing the reality of Little Michael's slow demise I can't help but think this is a Vietnam vet, who served his country, only to find himself dying alone on the street. And only through the kindness of good Samaritans, and the persistence of a caring merchant, was he able to find a dignified environment in which to spend his final days.

I also can't help but wonder how many soldiers currently serving in Iraq will meet the same kind of end 30 years from now, when their demons catch up with them on the streets of Anywhere, USA.

I also wonder who will be around to bring them in from the cold.

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