Making contact in isolation

Richard Peterman and Delisa HonoreNurse Richard Peterman (left) engaged Ganey in conversation and gave him hope for the future. Peterman is pictured with social worker Delisa Honore.

Emory University Hospital Midtown

The first time 40-year-old Thomas Ganey arrived at the emergency department at Emory University Hospital Midtown, he had a fever and his foot hurt—“real bad,” as he told the clinicians.

They could see why. Like many people with poorly controlled diabetes, Ganey, who was homeless, had foot ulcers, and his foot was badly infected. If the infection spread further, he would need surgery to remove tissue and bone.

To prevent this, the hospital paid for a course of heavy-duty antibiotics, along with his hospital stay, and then, after discharge, for recovery time in a personal care home with regular visits from home health nurses.

Over the following year, Ganey moved in and out of shelters, returning to Emory Midtown more than 20 times, including six times as an inpatient. He had been set to move into a halfway house where he could learn work and social skills to get him off the street and back into the regular world. He was excited.

Then things went wrong again. An irritating pimple on his forehead turned into a large, swollen, painful abscess, and he was diagnosed with MRSA, an antibiotic-resistant superbug.

Back in the hospital, Ganey was placed in isolation. Everyone who cared for him was masked and dressed in disposable gowns, per appropriate infectious disease protocol. Ganey began to realize that he was not leaving isolation anytime soon, and he became depressed and fearful.

Nurse Richard Peterman understood what was behind the patient's intense anxiety. He joked with Ganey and let him vent. He reassured him again and again that there was hope in sight—he would be cured eventually and he would be able to go to the halfway house and the better life it promised.

Peterman was right in his prediction. Before he left the hospital, Ganey thanked everyone. Then he told "Richard," as he called him, now unmasked, that he was glad he could finally see his face.