Every health care provider has that one (or more) patient(s) that stick with them. For some reason or another, something in that patient’s story, personality, etc. resonates with them. I found mine tonight.
It was a busy night which is par for the course on a Monday, but for some reason, it seemed even more shitshowy than usual. All of a sudden a cardiac arrest rolled through the door. That in itself isn’t what hit me though. Unfortunately, in my line of work, death is kind of a thing, and we’re frequently put in the position where our team is the only thing standing between this person and death. We swarmed to the room and did our thing.
Then the daughter rolled in.
She stood in the corner consciously avoiding being in the way repeating the phrase, “In Jesus’ name…” with a few statements of disbelief peppered in. I was in the room but not currently taking an active role in the resuscitation at the time, so I stood with her initially out of concern that in her potential hysterics, she would faint or otherwise somehow require some kind of medical attention.
I asked what I could do for her, and she asked me to pray. I stood by her in solidarity as she implored God to guide our hands, revive her mother, and be present in the room, her voice shaking with a mix of adrenaline, shock, fear, guilt, and a variety of other emotions. I watched as she oscillated between a stoic worried understanding and screaming hysterics. She went from requesting God to help to tearful pleading to spare her mother because she wasn’t ready to lose her.
“I’m not ready!”
“I still need her; The kids need her!”
“I was doing my best to take care of her!”
“MOM, PLEASE WAKE UP!”
For the first time in years, I felt trembling in my chest, tears welling in my eyes. Her pleas shook me to my core.
As I’ve mentioned before, medical emergencies are what we do. Death isn’t frequent but it also isn’t foreign. We had another person we were performing CPR on last night that we were unable to revive, and I’ve seen deaths from a variety of causes throughout my relatively short career. But none of them have disturbed me in the way this had.
When you do what we do, it’s easy to simplify each patient to their diagnosis or their room. “The chest pain in bed 8.” “The abdominal pain in bed 17.” “The flu-like symptoms in Quick Care 11.” “The stuck cock ring in T2.” “The CPR-in-progress in T4.” It’s not that we actively seek to dehumanize patients, but for efficiency and ease of communication we have a habit of doing so.
But this one was different. As I sat in the corner of the room with this woman’s daughter, I saw the action from her perspective. I tried to explain what was happening to her in a way she could understand. And even though I knew what was happening, watching from the corner with the backdrop of her wailing helped me share in her helplessness. And her tearful begging to have her mother back because she wasn’t ready…the whole process became much more humanized.
It’s no secret if you know me that being at odds with a member of my family, especially my mother is nothing out of the ordinary. However, I could hear myself in her petitions to God to extend her mother’s stay on this earthly plane. Guilt washed over me for all of the time wasted being angry or annoyed at my parents.
Even as I was relieved by the house supervisor and chaplain of my role in this resuscitation so that I could resume my own assignment, I felt a heaviness in my chest, an aching in my heart, and a trembling to my innermost being for hours after. At that point, I wanted nothing more than to get my parents on the phone and tell them I love them. Unfortunately for me, I work mid shifts, and random calls in the middle of the night would probably not be appreciated by people who have regular-people hours.
And even after the initial frenzy of the resuscitation wore off and we slowly dropped out of the room to return to our own sections, what I observed was awe-inspiring. Any patient or family member within earshot listened and/or prayed in silent solidarity from afar despite never having met the patient or the daughter. One patient that we’d been annoyed with all night said that as soon as she heard the screaming she began to pray. Another patient was in tears because she lost her own mother in a similar situation. And as we rounded to do damage control and apologize to other patients for their wait, they all exhibited some degree of patience and compassion because they recognized the medical and emotional emergency. To see strangers metaphorically come together in such a way was touching to say the least.
In any case, having a situation like this suddenly humanized left me affected with what can be best described as a malaise in my chest…hell, I haven’t posted here in a while, and was so disturbed that I was actually compelled to write this post.
Do me a favor. Call your Mom or Dad; brother or sister; a best friend and tell them that you love them.