I’m feeling empty inside tonight.
They were a happy couple in their 70s, traveling every summer as they had done since their grandchildren were first born. Finally feeling like they had finished raising their own children the couple enjoyed a carefree, low-budget retirement by driving their VW van to National Parks during the summertime.
After a sleepless night of indigestion, he wanted to take it easy that day. They took their van up over the summit of the national park and remarked on the wildflowers in bloom, the wildlife, the birds, the amazing pine scented air.
She took photos of him picking flowers for her, candid shots of him daydreaming in the mountain air. A bystander took a photo of the couple in front of the “Lava Cliffs” sign. He had brought a santa hat with him and they planned to send out the photo for their annual Christmas Card.
They were still so much in love.
I met him in the back of their van, he was cold and blue and gasping for air. She was frantic. “I didn’t know how to call for help,” she told me as she clasped her pink cell phone in her fists. She was hyperventilating.
I sat her down in a private room while the medics dragged him out of the van and put him on a gurney. I felt helpless when I saw him. We went through the routine, checked vital signs, started CPR, secured the airway, gave all the right drugs at the right times in the right order.
“Stop CPR,” I ordered as I squirted some ultrasound gel on his chest.
A faint flicker of cardiac activity showed on my screen.
The flight crew had arrived and the entire group of us went through our algorithms once more.
“Is there anything we havn’t tried?” I asked. No answer from my staff.
A baby cried in the room next door. I asked the clerk to escort the family only a curtain away back into the waiting room.
“Stop CPR. Time of death…” I announced.
I didn’t mind any of that…the teamwork, the drugs, the hustle and urgency of it all. It makes me feel important, gives me a space to occupy for a period of time. It’s the part that comes afterwards that I dread.
She was all alone in an instant. She still hadn’t show him all the photos she had taken that day. Her children were half a country away with their own children. He was simply gone.
I tried to console her by telling her that he went quickly, probably didn’t feel any pain, and had an amazing last day of his life in a place that he loved with the woman he adored.
Several hours later, she left with a smile on her face. She simply got back into her van, gave us a quiet ‘Thank You’ for all that we had done and drove away, alone in the van.
My emptiness pales in comparison to hers. I can’t imagine what she must be going through. I hope she’s safe and decided to drive back home to see her grandchildren. I know they miss her when she’s gone for the summer.
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