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Healing is only possible when we’re ready, willing

by Mick Rhodes | editor@claremont-courier.com

Age has a way of humbling us.

Every time I feel righteous — about parenthood, work, life — I learn something new that puts me back where I belong.

I tend to obsess, and sometimes that predilection produces meaningful results.

But that singlemindedness isn’t always helpful or healthy. And learning how to let go when something is just not working has been a lifelong practice.

Last Tuesday, I got obsessed again. This time it was with our neighbor Cash Whiteley, whom I’ve written about over the past several weeks. Cash called me about 9 a.m. to report he was suffering and was at the end of his rope. I found him in front of 21 Choices on First St., and again tried to help him get treatment for the massive open wound on the side of his face.

As I’ve got to know him over the past few weeks, his mood has vacillated between dark and grumpy and dark and thoughtful. He’s always hurting, so it’s hard to begrudge him the darkness.

But this time he wept. It shook me to see him that exposed.

My ministrations went nowhere. He got frustrated and rose to leave. As he did, he said, “I’m not a man,” an apparent reference to the headline that accompanied my August 12 COURIER story. I asked him where he was going, and he said, “In front of a train, hopefully.”

I sat there on the bench for a few minutes thinking of possible avenues to help. The only real option was to just do my best to get a doctor to treat him.

So, I flagged Cash down, we loaded up his tidy pushcart of possessions and headed to Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center.

He was wary. He’d been turned away from there numerous times, he told me.

We checked in at the emergency room about 10 a.m. and sat. The wait was long. After a while, he began to talk. I learned about his family, his kids. We talked about his 10 years working the carnival circuit. I discovered he knows pretty much everything there is to know about the late, great Waylon Jennings. Soon it was just two guys shooting the breeze.

Then about 5 p.m. a nurse called his name. Finally, we were inside.

Another nurse asked him about the origins of his wound, the first of about 20 times he’d recount the story over the following six hours.

Over that time dozens of PVHMC staff attended to him with striking compassion, kindness, and a lot of patience. Combative at first, as the hours rolled on and the nurses, PAs and doctors worked with him, Cash softened up.

About 7 p.m., he told me, “This is the first time I feel like I’m being treated with humanity.”

My only goal was to convince PVHMC to admit Cash and treat his wound. But several PAs and doctors explained the hospital didn’t have an infection specialist or plastic surgeon on staff who could deal with it. They all agreed he needed to be transferred to a county hospital where those specialists practiced.

So, the goal changed to getting Cash a bed at County USC in L.A. or Harbor UCLA Medical Center in Carson. When both of those facilities told PVHMC they were full and could not take him, Loma Linda became the focus.

As we waited, Cash and I got into some deep conversations. He started to talk about what his life might be after his medical issues were behind him. “I’ve got to get back on the horse,” he said. His mood elevated, he said he wanted to get back to his last job, driving for DoorDash. We talked about his kids, my kids, and our worries about all of them. It felt like friendship. He was opening up to me and I was grateful.

Finally, about 11 p.m. word came down that PVHMC was going to admit him, regardless of whether a bed was available at a county hospital. They confirmed they would hold onto him until a transfer was possible.

Victory.

I felt like we’d accomplished something significant. Cash said it was further than he’d ever gotten in more than two years of trying. It felt good.

I got home after midnight and fell into bed.

I called Cash about 8 a.m. Wednesday. He said he was still waiting on word on his transfer. My youngest daughter was having her wisdom teeth removed that morning, so I told him I’d check back in with him when I was back from the oral surgeon’s office.

When I called about 1 p.m. he was agitated.

“They’re kicking me out of here,” he said, with that old familiar cantankerous tone in his voice.

I was livid. It took me about five minutes to get to the hospital. I was ready to go toe-to-toe with the doctor who had decided to discharge Cash.

But thankfully, after talking to a very kind nurse and an incredibly patient PVHMC social worker, I found the hospital had no plans to send Cash packing. In fact, word was he was likely about to be transferred.

But for some reason, Cash was dead set on this notion that he was being evicted. He asked me to get him a pack of cigarettes, which of course could not happen. He was clearly jonesing for nicotine, so I asked the nurse and social worker if they could get him a nicotine patch and/or some Wellbutrin, a medicine used to help alleviate the withdrawal from cigarettes. Yes, was the reply, we can do that immediately.

But Cash was not appeased. Increasingly agitated, within a couple minutes he began yelling at me and the social worker, saying he “was going to lose his shit.”

Then, in a matter of seconds, he was gone, a 100-pound silhouette storming out the door with an IV needle sticking out of his bony right forearm.

I was dumbfounded. Cash was inches from the goal line and instead of stepping into the end zone and spiking the ball, he walked off the field.

All he’d been asking since I’d known him was to be treated like a human being. The good people at Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center had done that, and so much more. And it would have continued.

I was angry. All the work we did to get him this far, and he has a temper tantrum and blows up the entire thing? I was sad too. Cash’s wound was likely to kill him, probably soon.

As I made my way to my car, I saw Cash crossing Garey Avenue heading south, presumably toward the nearby liquor store for a pack of smokes.

I drove home in a fog. What could cause someone to self-sabotage to this degree?

Then it came to me: he’s not ready. We all must want to be helped before we’ll accept it, and me offering it up and expecting him to go along with the program was naïve, and worse yet, arrogant.

If Cash doesn’t want to step into the end zone right now, that’s his business. I just hope he survives long enough to get there one day.

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