Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Mystery of the Missing Pants

w:Bunker Hill MonumentImage via Wikipedia

"Ah cahn't find me pahnts," he said, his Irish as thick as the scent of old whiskey on his breath. Standing there at the nursing station in shirt, undershorts, and socks, it was obvious something was missing. Patrick been brought into the substance abuse unit by the police, after having been found wandering the Bunker Hill Monument soliciting tourists. I took him back to his room and thus began what would henceforth be known as the Mystery of the Missing Pants.

"Where did you leave them?" I asked, as he crawled back into bed. He looked at me like I had two heads -- from his point of view, I probably did -- and fell asleep. They've got to be here somewhere, I thought, and began to search his belongings, then the closet, under the bed, around the window, even above the foam ceiling tiles. Nothing, not a sign. It was as though I'd walked into an episode from The Twilight Zone.

I was about to leave when Cathan, the second-generation Irish charge nurse, poked his head in the door and asked, "Any luck?" I shook my head no, he shook his in disbelief, then pointed to the window and suggested it might easily have been mistaken for a dresser drawer under the circumstances. So, out I went, and digging through the bushes (intentionally avoiding the curious glance of a hospital security guard), found only aluminum cans, paper cups, and cigarette butts. Whatever had been thrown out the window at one time or another, it didn't include the faded and worn plaid wool pants I'd seen when my patient arrived in the company of Boston's Finest.

A week later, at discharge, Patrick was decent: we'd found a pair that fit in the stock of spare clothes kept for such occasions. When we relocated from the second to the eleventh floor of the hospital we did a more thorough, albeit informal, search and still, no pants. Eventually, the tale became part of unit lore, recounted at Christmas parties and during long evening shifts when snoring echoed down the halls like the rumble of hot rod glasspack mufflers at a stop light.

Several months went by -- it was late September -- and as I was preparing to leave Boston for Colorado, I decided to take the Green Line downtown for one last walk through Boston Common. I'd just gotten off at the station when I felt someone in the crowd grab my elbow and whisper in a thick, whiskey-laden Irish accent, "Ah, Lad, tell me now, didja ever fahnd me pahnts?"

(Image of the Bunker Hill Monument via Wikipedia)

(Note to the reader: as always, names and details have been altered and/or fictionalized to protect patient anonymity -- and make for a better story!)
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