In homes all around us, behind closed doors and behind stoic faces that conceal the pain, horror, and resignation of caring for terminal patients are people who live their lives in heroic fashion; people that will never be acknowledged for their bravery or awarded medals or certificates of appreciation. They get up every day with an all-too-familiar gnawing deep inside their soul, wondering how they will make it through another day—watching, waiting, praying for a merciful end while secretly hoping for a miracle. Being invited into the lives of desperately ill people and witnessing their courage, caring, and humanity instilled in me hope and optimism that stays with me long after my days responding to their emergencies are done.
But it was never easy.
“Rescue 1; respond to 523 Park Avenue for a female unresponsive.”
“Rescue 1, Responding.”
I look at her notes:
End stage renal failure. Diabetes. Congestive heart failure. Hypertension.
There’s a bag of meds next to the bed.
A distraught family.
Three flights of stairs.
Why do the sickest live on the third floor?
Desperation fills the room. It has its own scent.
More medications spilled on the floor
Two teens, tired and scared.
Their patient, barely breathing, unresponsive, her life nearly over.
She’s thirty-seven. She won’t be thirty-eight.
IV failed, no pressure in the veins.
Blood glucose 11. Glucagon in the triceps.
No flinch, cold, dead flesh.
Minutes pass, a flicker of the eyes, an opening.
We transport to the ER. I don’t even know why.
All around us people are living lives in quiet desperation. Try and be kind. At some time or another it will be our turn.
Maybe it already is….
…and we’re about to find out.