I watched four people die this weekend, four people. Sounds horrifying right? Well, it is.
Surely these people must have been sweet little 90 year olds, who lived long happy lives, drifting quietly off into the night surrounded by family they love. Well, that is not my story, in fact, that’s never my story. My story is filled with people who woke up, got dressed, and started their day, just like you and I, having no idea that it would be their last.
The room above looks so benign, shiny and new, full of promise and cutting edge medical equipment, ready for whatever may roll through the doors. Exactly what you would want if you were the one lying in the bed. But, there is much more here than meets the eye. So many things, things that can’t be seen by those who haven’t stood in this place time and time again.
You may wonder what could hide here, what could be lurking behind the glass doors and freshly painted walls. Just what do I see when I look at this place? I see so many things. I see countless hours of hard work, sweat, and tears. I see a floor covered in blood, trash, gloves, and whatever else may land there in the middle of the mess. I hear gut wrenching screams, the indescribable sound of a weeping mother, and the words “time of death” many more times than I care to admit. I hear the pumping of the level one, the hum of a ventilator, slamming drawers, alarming monitors, and the loud sigh of relief when we “get them back.” I see gowns, trauma surgeons, confused patients, ET tubes, code carts, flushed faces, shaking hands, and countless lives, both saved and lost. You see, I have been on both sides of this bed, and I can tell you they are equally terrifying.
You may think that there is no way anyone could find peace here, or that there is any way to see beauty in this mess. To tell you the truth, some days I’m not sure either. Some days I leave defeated, I let the dark win, and I am certain there is no way I can work one more shift. Then, just when I know I can’t step back in that room, something amazing happens. We save a life, one, that’s all it takes, and you know you can pick up the pieces and carry on. I recently cared for a patient with dissecting AAA, scary shit, I don’t care how many times you’ve done it. This man drove himself to the hospital and arrested walking through the triage doors. Incredible timing right? Not only did he regain consciousness in the ED before going to the OR, he walked out of the hospital a week later, that’s right, walked out. AMAZING! How does that even happen? That shiny room worked its ass off that day and won, we won! I can’t describe the feeling. Nothing can compare to saving a life.
In the middle of the chaos it’s hard to see the significance of the work we do. We just power through whatever the task is at hand. Lines, labs, intubation, compressions, chest tubes, splints, the list goes on and on. It isn’t until after the event that we can step back and look at what we have done. What went well, what could have gone better, and come to grips with the fact that the person we just cared for was in fact a person, not a job, not a task, but a human being. Someone with a life, and a story of their own. For me, it’s in that very moment I find strength and peace in what we do. There is always something beautiful, even in the worst of situations. The pure will to fight, to live, and to carry on, even when it hurts to breathe, is what keeps me coming back for more.
So yes, that room can be a horrific place. It can be scary and lonely, but it can also be amazing and inspirational, a place of love and triumph. Each day, each patient, brings a new chance to fight, to win, and to find beauty in unthinkable circumstances. Behind those glass doors are many hidden things. Many things that most people will never see or feel. Things that have made me laugh, made me cry, built me up, and knocked me down. Most of these things can’t be shared, and that’s ok, they don’t really need to be. If you live it you understand why, and you also understand how it’s possible, to find peace here.
Photo credit: MCR trauma room in Loveland, Colorado