I was just having a conversation with a friend of mine a few days ago about when people cry out in true anguish, and how those cries remain carved into your memory.
I told her of the two cases which still make me shiver when I think of them.
The first was a 43 year old woman who miscarried 14 week old twins in the department. Her absolute desolation was heart wrenching as she sobbed and cried out for her babies, apologizing to her husband, and uttering, "this was my last chance..." It was enough to move several of the staff to tears that night. I can close my eyes, and I am standing in the hall between the patient bathroom and the gyne room. A small basin is in my hands, and there are two baby boys in it.
The second case which comes to me often, was a 13 year old girl who jumped out of her second story window to sneak out to a party. She landed on her back, crushing her lumbar spine. I knew it was bad when I looked in the report room where the MD's pull up imaging results. I saw the ER doc sitting with his head in his hands. He got up and walked into the patients room, and a few minutes later the scream of despair at her diagnosis of paralysis echoed through the department. For hours she screamed and screamed, "NOOOOOOOOOOO!"
I can still feel myself standing behind that nursing station desk, the desk lamp shining on the charts beneath it, the overhead lights dimmed. My heart pounding.
I know that last night will be one of those nights now too. One that will stay with me a long, long, while.
4 teens were in a car which lost control and rolled over down a rocky embankment. The front seat occupants were both killed and the two back seat occupants were brought into the department. Both were in mild shock but physically stable. While we waited for the urine test to come back on my patient I sat and talked with her. A gorgeous girl with long curly hair down to her waist, mascara lining the contours of her face. She kept telling me she was fine and wanted to know how her friends were doing. She'd start crying softly and apologize to me for doing so. She told me the driver was her best friend, that she tried to wake her up at the scene but couldn't. "Please try to find something out about her, why isn't she here? Can I see her?"
I'd been told that her friends were waiting outside and that they didn't want her to know until she was sent home. Her urine came back clear and she was discharged. I walked with her out to the parking lot just as the parents of one of the surviving friends showed up. The night air has a chill to it now and soon we were both shivering as we walked out to the cluster, she asked me, "is she out here?" Her friends put their arms around her. I walked back into the department to grab her a blanket. Just as the ambulance bay doors swooshed closed behind me I heard her cry out "NOOOOO!!! YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING! YOU'RE LYING!!!! LYINGGGGGG!!!"
I came back out and she was being supported but her friends, she was wretching, crying, knees buckling. Her white shorts and legs were spattered with blood and on her feet the blue OR booties I'd given her. We gathered around, tried our best to support her.
After some time myself and the other nurse returned inside. I went into the staff lounge and fell asleep. I know that sounds harsh but I was running on 4 hours of sleep and the high emotional intensity of the night had sucked the remaining drops of energy from my bones.
After my break I returned to a quiet department. When the shift was over I felt the beginnings of my cold getting worse and exhaustion seeping in. Stepping outside the sun and seeing the rising mist at the bases of the mountains, I was reminded that there were things to be celebrated, and things to be grateful for. I drove out of the city limits, pulled my bike out of the back of my car. I went for a long road ride to think about the evenings events, how the feelings were going to be shaped in my memory.
My job, which can be horrible (yesterday's post), can turn around on a dime and suddenly become a high honor. When Eve Ensler writes about birth she starts with a line, "I was there in the room..."
For birth, and death, and everything in between...we are there...in the room. And that is why, I love this work.