The Not-So-Free Lunch


A report comes from a nurse on the general medical floor about a patient who is being wheeled down to the emergency department in a wheelchair:

The patient was visiting her mother in the hospital when her mother was served lunch.
The visitor asked if she could have a tray as well and asked to have the tray charged to the mother’s account.
The nurse told the visitor that there were only enough trays for the patients but that the cafeteria was open until 1:30 PM for lunch.
The visitor said that she didn’t have money for the cafeteria and asked the nurse to order her a tray as previously requested.
The nurse said that she couldn’t do that.

Ten minutes later, there was a yell and the mother’s call light started ringing.

When the nurses went into the room, the visitor was sprawled out over the floor, moaning and tossing her head back and forth.
The mother said “She must have had a diabetic reaction. She’s diabetic, you know.”
No, we didn’t know. But that is a right fine piece of floor throwing, though.

So the patient is wheeled down to the emergency department in a wheelchair for evaluation of a “diabetic reaction” … when her glucose level was 147.
She reportedly got dizzy and passed out, so she was monitored and labs were done.
She hit her head when she fell and was complaining of a severe headache, so she received a CT scan of her head.
And she got a lunch tray.

After a full medical evaluation, telemetry monitoring, several thousand dollars in tests, a liter of IV fluid, and a lunch tray, the patient felt better and was deemed fit for discharge. Rather than going home, the patient expressed a desire to return to her mother’s room.

And so she left the emergency department in a wheelchair, content with the knowledge that her diabetic reaction did not result in any long-lasting effects … until at least dinnertime.


This and all posts about patients may be fictional, may be my experiences, may be submitted by readers for publication here, or may be any combination of the above. Factual statements may or may not be accurate. If you would like to have a patient story published on WhiteCoat’s Call Room, please e-mail me.


  1. I had almost exactly the same thing happen. I walked in on a patient’s grandmother eating her breakfast in the patient room. I explained that visitors are not allowed to eat in patient rooms and offered to escort her to the waiting room. She left in a huff and “passed out” in the hallway, needing to be given juice and be wheeled to the waiting room. No bg meter on her to actually test her bg, of course. It’s amazing how a 20 yard walk can drop a glucose so much.

    • You think she will actually look at or pay the bill? Likely Medicaid or uninsured, which means we pay the bill.

      Thanks for a great laugh.

  2. Retired because of this kind of crap on

    It would be reasonable to assume this “patient” was faking in order to get free food — free to her, at least. She should have been prodded by foot and told, “Get up, we know you’re faking.” Unfortunately, one time in a hundred we would be wrong about the malingerer. Until we are protected from being sued by that one in a hundred (or maybe even one in a thousand), and hospital administrators have the wisdom to ignore complaints from such dirtbags, we will remain at their mercy — wasting uncountable taxpayer dollars on them. So, are we willing to accept a one per thousand error rate and protect that nearly but not completely perfect physician, or do we adhere to the superhuman standard of perfection and waste billions on unnecessary diagnostic work-ups? It is either efficiency (cost-effectiveness) or the quest for perfection.
    We can’t have both.

  3. This is so disappointing to hear about. I’m with “retired because of…” administrators have to learn how to fob off complainants like this so staff on the floor can treat the threat of a complaint with the contempt it deserves and can call the miscreants on their unbelievably selfish behaviour. Meanwhile, you have to wonder just how sad the rest of their life is

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