Sunday, June 15, 2008

24 Minutes

1830. 30 minutes before my ER shift is over. Just 30 more minutes of a 12 hour shift. I am in a patient room, and I hear "patient coming to room 2". This is my trauma room. I'm getting a critical patient in my trauma room 30 minutes before shift change. I have a lot to do in a short period of time so that the night shift nurse I give report to doesn't get a heap of work dumped on him. I walk in the room and sitting on the stretcher is a 69 year old African American man who appears at first glance very healthy. He is trim, with pressed slacks and a button up shirt with a belt that matches his shoes. He has a small suitcase and a small bag that he has brought sitting on the floor of the room. He has a wide, kind grin on his face with lots of teeth, and he clasps my hand in his. I introduce myself, and he tells me that he knows me. I have taken care of him before. But I think he is mistaken. I would have remembered Mr. A.

Mr. A. arrived via taxi to our ER about 7 minutes before this. He is widowed, with no family in town, and he was afraid to drive becuase he had been passing out frequently over the last several weeks, and twice on this day. He had no one to take him to the emergency room that day.  He also told the triage nurse that his internal defibrillator had been firing and shocking his heart. He had had a cardiac bypass surgery 20 years before, and was on his 6th pacemaker/defibrillator. When the triage nurse hooked him up to our EKG machine, we witnessed a snapshot of his heart in ventricullar tachycardia (or "V Tach" to all of you ER watchers). People do not stay in V Tach for very long. They either are "shocked" out of it, or it eventually "flatlines", killing the person. We saw on the EKG machine as his internal defibrillator fired, converting his cardiac rhythm back into a normal, safe rhythm.

A bit of information for you: An internal defibrillator is similar to an external defibrillator (that's the big thing that shocks your heart when every one yells "clear!" on those TV shows). It only delivers a shock if your heart is in a fatal arrythmia. It is designed to save your life.

Mr. A.'s defibrillator had been firing for the last 2 days. Just moments before I met him, he had been shocked back from a potentially fatal cardiac arrythmia.

And there he was, big smile on his face, telling me in thickly accented English how glad he was that I was taking care of him as he told me about his severe chest pain. I did my thing, putting him on monitors and oxygen, starting IVs, and giving him cardiac medication. All the while, he was thanking me profusely, the smile never leaving his face. I gave report to the night shift nurse, and I stuck my head in room 2 before I left. I told Mr. A. that I was leaving, and another nurse would be taking care of him.

"What? You're leaving me now? I don't want you to leave. Thank you so much for taking care of me today. You'll come visit me tomorrow?" Hand grasped mine firmly, smiling. I think he would have kissed me if he could.

People respond to illnesses in all different ways. Some are depressed. Some blow a minor injury or head cold completely out of proportion and moan and whine about how their weekend is like totally ruined now. Expressing frustration at their nurse, as if it is somehow my fault that they punched a glass window and cut their hand. Um, how did you think that would go? Then there was the transvestite who had a crying panic attack at the thought of recieving a tetanus shot. Some get very fearful and nervous when faced with chest pain and strokes and other really scary stuff.

But Mr. A. was very unique. He was the happiest, most grateful patient I have had in recent memory, and he had experienced a legitimate near death experience just 10 minutes before.  Here was a man having an actual life threatening medical emergency, and he couldn't have been happier to be there.

I didn't get a chance to talk to Mr. A. much that day. I do not know him, I do not know his family or his faith. I do know that he was alone.  All alone, with no family or even a friend or neighbor to drive him to the hospital.  Which could partially explain his joy at just being around other people, even if it was in an emergency room.  But it was a privilege to take care of him when he needed it most, even if it was just for 24 minutes.  

It makes me consider the people I come into contact with, even for a few minutes.  What do they notice about me?  About the way I live?  Do they see joy?  Do they see Christ?  Does my outlook on life impact people positively, even if they don't "know" me?  Do I make a room brighter by being in it, as Mr. A. did, even as his defibrillator was shocking his heart?  Just something I was thinking about...


Rebecca said...

I have to say everytime I have been around you or seen you from a distance you always, always have a smile usually followed by a light giggle or a healthy laugh. You do light up a room. Thank you.