February 08, 2007

A Death in the ER

I was in an emergency room yesterday. Not important where. I was making some measurements related to an electrical / environmental problem, and I was walking around with meters, standing in hallways, sneaking into rooms in between patients.

Now this was a busy emergency room, and most of the patient rooms and trauma rooms were tied up - I had to work around patients, work around staff. As it was, I was unable to do my usual thorough documentation, and had to rely on spot measurements. Some of the subject rooms just never opened up.

At one point, I was told "Trauma 2 is free" so we went in there. Looking over, I noticed a body bag in the adjacent Trauma 1, separated by a divider. Somebody had passed away in the ER, while we were there.

Over the next few hours, I came across the family of this man; what I assumed to be a wife, and perhaps a daughter or neighbor. Often uncomfortably; standing in a hall, hugging or talking quietly. Occasionally, loud crying. Near the end of the stay, we ended up in the elevator with the family.

My heart filled with grief for this woman, this family. A death in the ER most likely is sudden, unexpected. This is not the oncology department, not hospice, not a convalescent home. Here, death comes like an assassin - swift, sharp and unexpected.

I did not say anything. I was nobody - a techie with a handful of meters, getting in the way, doing inscrutable and meaningless things while their world collapsed around them. I hope my presence in the ER did not cause additional grief, that my witnessing of this small quiet drama, one of many played out in this ER, and many like it each day, was not intrusive. Perhaps my work will make it safe for another patient, down the road, perhaps one or two might be saved for having this problem fixed.

But damn, to live that close to death each day. I am not sure I could do it. The folks in the ER - the paramedics and EMTs, the doctors and nurses and staff - get my highest level of admiration.

1 comment:

Diana_CT said...

I worked installing two way radios in ER back when I just got out of college and you get to see what special people they are and my hat goes off to them. Especially at two or three in the morning on Saturday, I know I could never do that day in and day out.