It was not the kind of drama that seemed destined for a favorable climax. But after the sick street man known as "Charlie" spent a rain and snow-soaked Tuesday night -- his 15th night -- in a mist of steam across from the State Department, officials yesterday managed to spirit him off to a hospital.
For two weeks, workers and neighbors around the grate where Charlie had bedded down night and day had watched him deteriorate. Some said they wished he would die or disappear. Others spent days vainly turning bureaucratic wheels to help him.
Refusing medical help, he was risking his life in a dangerous game he seemed destined to lose. But after his story appeared in Tuesday editions of The Washington Post, things began to change.
Members of his family came forward to identify him as Charles R. Ford, a long-lost relative with whom they had lost contact.
"I think it's a miracle what happened," said his mother, Marie E. Shepherd, 65, of 1101 D ST. SE, who remarried in 1970 and had not seen her son in years.
"It's great," said Charlie's oldest brother, John Ford, when he learned his brother had been taken to D.c. General Hospital. Ford said he had last seen his brother a couple of years ago walking down L Street. "I pulled up beside him and tried to talk to him and he spit on the ground," Ford, a mail clerk said. "I haven't seen him since."
The Department of Human Resources' Mental Health Administration dispatched an "officer-agent" and a mental health technician early Tuesday to the grating in the 2100 block of Virginia Avenue NW, in front of the elegant Governor Shepherd Apartments, where Ford lay.
"They were not able to examine him," said Dr. Evelyn Ireland, acting administrator of the Mental Health Administration. "He would not allow it."
"We've been trying to determine how we can intervene," Ireland said later Tuesday.
But the snow that began to fall by Wednesday morning convinced Ireland, "that man was hurting himself." In consultation with her officer-agent, Ireland's office issued an order to pick him up. Around 10:30 a.m., three squad cars and an ambulance arrived at the grating.
"I have an order to take you to the emergency mental health clinic," Ford was told. "Leave me alone," he responded. But by then his condition apparently had weakened his resistance, and he finally yielded to the order.
A psychiatrist at the Area C Emergency Mental Health Clinic recommended his immediate admittance to D.c. General Hospital -- where he remained last night. His condition was still being evaluated.
Charles R. Ford is a 1956 graduate of Archbishop Carroll High School who later worked for many years with an export-import company in New York. John Ford traces his brother's trouble to the breakup of his marriage and subsequent separation from his three children. "Something happened. Now I'm grateful because I haven't been able to find him."
Said his mother, who remains unsure whether her son will receive her: "I'll try and visit but it can't be no pressure. It's going to be a slow thing."