Gary 73

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A new patient was admitted to the subacute unit of outr small local hospital. He was transferred from LA County Hospital and his name was Gary 73.

The following history accompanied him:
Gary 73 had been riding his bicycle and was hit by a car. An ambulance transferred him to the nearest hospital, but it was decided there that his injuries were too severe for them to handle, and he was transferred to County Hospital. By the time he arrived he had become comatose. No identification was found on his body, and consequently he was given the name Gary 73. His last name, 73, indicated the  chronological order when he was admitted.

Gary 73 remained at County for many weeks. When it was decided that his brain damage was irreversible, and nothing more could be done for him, he was transferred to us.


Gary had a tracheostomy, through which he breathed oxygenated air. He was fed and received medication through a tube in his stomach. He was so called posturing, in decerebrate position, indicating severe brain damage: arms and legs outstretched and rigid, his feet pointing downward (sometimes called “ballet feet”). His eyes didn’t track or focus, he was unresponsive.

Gary was given a birthdate at County, so he could receive a social security number and be entered into the system. It was decided there that he was 50 years old. According to information we received from County they had taken his fingerprints and sent them to some database, but no match was found.


We all wondered; “who is this man”, and “hasn’t anybody been looking for him?” “Is there a mother, a friend or even a neighbor who wondered why he never came home?”

I would look at him and try to guess his ethnicity. Slender build, dark hair, no body hair, not circumcised. Maybe Latino or Native American? Who knows. 

I thought we should put his picture up in stores around the area where he had his accident. The problem was, we didn’t know where that was. And though the Social Worker once called “Unsolved Mysteries,” which was a popular program at that time, they had a backlog of potential stories and weren’t interested.

One night I dreamt that Gary woke up. In my dream we were all standing around his bed and asked “who are you, what is your name?” 

But, of course, nothing like that ever happened. We took care of him, kept his tracheostomy tube clean by suctioning and respiratory therapy, changed and bathed him, turned and repositioned him every two hours. And he just lived on like that in his vegetative state.  

More than a year went by. And then, one morning, I arrived at work and was told that Gary had died during the night. His body was already taken away and his bed stripped.

That was that, the end of our mystery man. I still think of him sometimes, more than 20 years later.

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