"Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not certain about the universe."
- Albert Einstein
Several years ago, with alarms sounding in the background, I answered an urgent page. “Dr. Campbell, please come to Mr. Pearson’s hospital room immediately.” I dropped what I had been working on and headed to the floor.
Mr. Pearson was in his mid-50s but he looked much, much older. Like many patients with cancer of the throat, he had started smoking as a teenager. His first cancer had been treated several years before and, despite strong admonitions, he had continued to smoke and drink. When the second cancer appeared, we made a last-ditch effort to remove it surgically. Now, a few days after that procedure, he was languishing in a hospital bed, attached to tubes, and too weak to move around.
I got to the room. “What’s wrong?” I asked. “Is he all right?”
The staff alternated between anger and relief as they told me the story.
One of the nurses had been walking past his room and smelled something burning just as the alarms began. She pushed open the door to investigate and, sure enough, there was Mr. Pearson trying to put out a fire that had started in his bed. Apparently, he had decided to have a cigarette and had accidentally ignited the sheets. She quickly moved him into a chair and doused the blaze. The room smelled of smoke, burnt cloth, and ash as staff and firefighters slowly finished cleaning up and went back to work. Fortunately, my patient was unharmed. I was amazed by the entire scene.
“What were you thinking? You set your room on fire! Why didn’t you call for help?” I asked.
He shrugged. Gesturing towards the nurses, "I knew they would be mad," he said. "By the way, is there is a smoking area nearby?” he asked.
Duh, I thought. “No, there isn’t.”
“Didn’t think so.” He slumped deeper into the chair.
A couple of days later, an administrator contacted me because they were thinking of filing criminal charges against my patient. As Mr. Pearson's health deteriorated, they reconsidered.
What an incredible addiction is nicotine! We were fortunate that there was no catastrophe. It was a memorable day.
Posted 9:38 AM