It comes with the job.
At 4:30 AM, a truck driver was parked at a rest area. He awoke with chest pain and dialed 911. When EMS arrived on scene, he was unresponsive. They performed CPR and defibrillated his heart. When he got to the hospital, there was a faint pulse and a low blood pressure. Unfortunately, the doctors, nurses, and techs did everything that they could, but his heart stopped and they weren’t able to get it to start. Time of death was called at 5:25 AM. No family had been found: the body was passed to the medical examiner.
At 6:30 AM, I arrived at the Emergency Room. The doctor who was just getting off retold the story to my preceptor. His voice was matter of fact. He finished with, “young guy, 48, wish there was more we could’ve done but really he was dead when he got here.”
The morning began. No true “emergencies” but people who were in pain or sick who needed tests run, imaging, and medications. Nurses, techs, providers, social workers, and support staff took care of patients. Because of the shift change, most did not even know about the man’s death.
At 9:00 AM a nursing coordinator approached my preceptor. He explained that the parents of the man had been contacted and they were here. All they knew was that their son had been brought to the ED in the early hours of the morning.
At 9:15 AM, the nursing coordinator, my preceptor, a social worker and I walked down a hallway and into a private room. A nervous looking couple sat on the couch. The woman’s hand gently touched the man’s thigh; his arm rested on her shoulders. We all sat down in a circle of chairs opposite the couch. The nursing coordinator held a box of tissues. The social worker clutched a clipboard. My preceptor sat down closest to them, looked up at them, and started, “I’m so”. The mother’s voice exploded, “No! No, no no no no. Don’t say it! You can’t tell me. If you don’t say it then maybe it isn’t true. No!” Her voice trailed off as tears engulfed it. She twisted into her husband: her body was overwhelmed with emotion. He held her as her body melted into his. Quietly, he looked up into the face of my preceptor. He made eye contact and without saying a word asked for more details.
“An ambulance brought him here after he called 911. I don’t know what happened but I don’t think he suffered very long. We did CPR. We did everything we could. I am very sorry for your loss.”
That was all that was said. The nursing coordinator passed around the box of tissues. We all sat in silence, the woman still sobbing. My preceptor put his hand on the woman’s shoulder and repeated, “I am very sorry for your loss” as he slowly stood. He turned to make eye contact with me to signal that it was time for us to go. The social worker slipped into the chair where he had been sitting. Her hand replaced his on the mother’s shoulder. More tissues were passed. I repeated my preceptor’s words. “I am very sorry for your loss,” but I don’t think anyone heard me. We floated out of the room.
From that room, the hallway led right back to the busy Emergency Department. I turned to my preceptor, shook my head, and sighed. He shrugged his shoulders while saying, “It is never easy to say those words, but it comes with the job.” We walked right into the room of another patient.
We worked the rest of the shift; we cared for patients one after another. Not another word was spoken of it. It comes with the job.
Year in Medical School: PA2
Grew Up: Williamsburg, VA
College Attended: William and Mary
“Peace cannot be kept by force, it can only be achieved through understanding.”
- Albert Einstein
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