I feel as if I’ve been dragged into an abyss I cannot get out of. Ever since the heavy influx of casualties 4 weeks ago I haven’t been able to regain my equilibrium. Between incredibly sick and dying patients at work and friends deploying or moving away at home I edge farther and farther into darkness. Some nights I come home after a long shift and simply want to sleep, to forget. To turn off the brain that remains alert, imaginary monitor alarms shrieking inside my head and not think about one more thing.
I’ve never done well with “good byes”; it’s probably the most single thing I abhor about having friends in the military. Unless they retire and stay in the area, they’re always leaving. To them “good byes” are a way of life, but to me. . . well, it’s just painful and sad. Last week I said farewell to a friend heading to Afghanistan. This week I said adios to a friend moving to the opposite coast. Next week it is yet another going to Europe. I even hate to say au revior to some of my patients! Gawd, what a sap I am. Sentimental female.
Combine that with my professional challenges and it’s a fast track into depression.
Today as I passed through the doors into the unit I saw family members standing in the hallway. Moving fast I only briefly glanced at them, recognizing the wife and son of man I took care of several weeks running but no longer in need of critical care. “Something must have happened” was the thought that ran through my head, and as I moved along corridor I saw frenzied activity in one of the rooms. My former patient was being coded, staff working feverishly to no avail. The doctor went out to speak with the wife and brought her back with him, decisions to be made, as he would not recover. In a quiet, sympathetic voice the physician explained to the wife the dire outcome. As she listened to him she looked up and saw me, tightly grabbing my hand she said, “Clara, what do I do?”
“Oh god”, I thought, “Please don’t put me in this position, please don’t ask me that.”
My coworkers and I knew our efforts were futile. My patient’s wife knew he was terminally ill but still she asked. Begging, my hand grasped in hers, she pleaded, “please Clara, is there nothing you can do?” “Please, please, are you sure there is nothing more?” “What do I do, Clara?” “What do I do?”
Her pleas broke my heart and the tears that had weld up in my eyes began to pour down my face. A coworker and friend looked at me with understanding and sympathy for the position I was being placed in. I laid my arm across the wife’s shoulder, placed my cheek on the top of her head and softly said, “it’s time to stop. If there were something we could do we would but we can’t.”
Her son appeared at the bedside and said “Mom, this isn’t what he would have wanted. Please Mom, it’s time to stop, let them stop.”
The wife gazed at me, grief filling her face, “Clara?” she asked me once more.
I slowly shook my head “no”.
Reaching down she grasped her husband’s hand in hers, kissed his cheek and turned away, moving slowly out of the room. As we walked down the hallway to the waiting room sobs filled her body. It was one of those sobs that starts in the pit of your stomach and crawls its way up, gaining force until there’s nothing you can do but fall to your knees and howl in overwhelming sorrow.
I delivered her into the arms of her waiting family and slowly walked back into the unit. When I was alone I bowed my head and asked for divine strength to make it through the remainder of my workday. It was only 0730.
Prayers heard, I survived the day and now am home. I’m home and I’m alone, very alone. Sadness and exhaustion weigh me down and I revert back to familiar patterns. I simply want to sleep. I simply want to crawl into bed, pull the covers up and fall into amnesic slumber. I don’t want to think anymore and I don’t want to be alone.