Disclaimer: stop reading now if you are eating.
Last Sunday, a patient in the unit expired while I was on shift. She had been on our service earlier in the week, but was transferred over to the medicine team when her biopsy results revealed cancer.
After she died, I was called to remove her chest tube. It was an odd feeling, pulling a tube full of warm blood from her still chest. I was all alone with her, and though the nurse had already cleaned her up, the television was turned on. The noise of a ball game in the background was offensive, so I turned it off. I realize that the nurse had probably turned it on so that she didn’t have to deal with the quietness of her death, but it just seemed so inappropriate.
The experience took me back to a night about five years ago. My partner and I were hanging out in the station and we got called for a code. When we arrived at the address, the fire engine was already there. Laid out on a white carpeted dining room floor was an elderly gentleman. He had been having dinner with his wife that evening when he suddenly began choking and collapsed.
We started CPR immediately, but the paramedic on scene was not able to intubate successfully. We spent 40 minutes on scene trying to resuscitate him. Time after time, gastric contents kept resurfacing. And in case you never have the experience, there’s nothing quite like the smell of partially-digested alfredo sauce. The smell was so bad that two of the firefighters on scene started vomiting. To put a gross anecdote to an end, the call ended with me wiping off the patient’s face and closing his eyes so that his wife wouldn’t have to deal with the mess.
I guess that what I’m trying to express is that for me there’s something very sobering and solemn about death. It doesn’t matter how familiar the person is to me or not, I think that every death deserves a certain amount of respect. The patient last week didn’t have any family contacts that we could find. She went off to the morgue alone. I guess maybe that’s why I was so upset by the irreverence towards her death. After assessing her and having to page the covering team repeatedly to come and see her as she was expiring, I just felt like nobody cared. And maybe that’s a little revealing about me—I don’t want to die and be shoved in a refrigerator unceremoniously. I don’t so much care what happens to my physical body, but just the thought of dying without mattering to anyone else is chilling.
I know that I should be doing something healthy to get rid of my stress, but when I go home I just want to sleep or sit in front of the tv. I had to back out of the 5k because if I don't leave on that day I won't get any hang out time with "The Phoenix" during my vacation week. I was worried that taking a week off in September would be too soon, but I think I'm more than ready for it.