Caring for the Patient Who Is a Zombie

May 8, 2010

The zombie is an undead, shambling, flesh-hungry monster with a particular appetite for human brains. Although an uncommon sight in the doctor’s office, it behooves the astute physician to gain some familiarity and expertise in the medical care of zombies should one appear for an impromptu “check up.”

Universal precautions are of utmost importance when evaluating zombies in the office. After a chaotic check-in at the front desk, and a hasty collection of co-pay, the zombie should be promptly escorted to a private, strictly isolated room. Health care workers should wear masks and gowns, as well as eye protection. The zombie’s arms and legs should be restrained in case of sudden hostility or aggression. Unfortunately this isolation and restraint may cause the zombie anxiety, loneliness, and a suspicion that he is somehow being punished. Reassurance and a welcoming smile may help to reduce unease. Perhaps the office could invest in a calming fish tank.

As part of a routine check up, the physician should include a thorough assessment of lifestyle and nutrition. Zombie sleeping patterns are at best erratic, and lead to mood disorders, chronic fatigue, and irritability. Personal hygiene is often atrocious, so reviewing such basics as bathing and brushing the teeth is generally not considered insulting.

The physician must be sensitive to what she may instinctively consider revolting – zombie dietary practices. Often the zombie will shout “Brains! Brains!” while describing a typical meal, and trust can be lost easily should the physician register disgust. Reminding the undead that plants are also living things and can be consumed may lead to the adoption of healthier eating behaviors (and a reduction of community risk).

On the other hand, zombies should be congratulated on their uniquely healthy behaviors. As general rules, zombies rarely drink alcohol, smoke, engage in sexual behaviors, have work stress, or lead sedentary lives. The sight of a zombie shuffling down the street should remind us of the many benefits of exercise and fresh air, and perhaps spur us on to attend a local zumba class.

Careful attention should be paid to the physical examination of the zombie, noting the degree of dental decay, ragged flesh, and odor. Mental status assessments are nearly impossible, but loudly groaning along with the zombie may simulate conversation, allowing for a bill to be generated for the visit.

The zombie, by eating human flesh, is at risk of all manner of contagion. The infectious disease burden is often tremendous. It should be assumed that the zombie “has everything,” and so routine screening is not advised. By feasting on brains they are particularly susceptible to transmissible spongiform encephalopathies like Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease, similar to some cannibalistic communities in Papua New Guinea. Prion diseases do not respond to a “Zpack.”

The ethical questions around zombie health care are many. Should the physician withhold treatment for individuals unlikely to stop eating human flesh? Does the health care worker have the right to refuse seeing a zombie? Can zombie behavior ever be changed, and if not, should the production of skeletal muscle through tissue culture be allowed on an industrial scale, providing zombies with a safe and less horrifying source of nutrition?

While undeniably challenging, the competent care of the zombie in primary care can be a most rewarding experience, and can provide a foundation for the more complex tasks of caring for ninjas, pirates, and Vikings.

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