Have you ever known someone who is constantly smiling? Its not a bad thing, its just noticeable. Sometimes it bothers people but they’re just jealous. For me these people are an inspiration! Even with the worst luck, they smile and take the next thing life offers them with a cheerful attitude.
I knew someone exactly like this smiling example. Her name is Wendy and she was a Registered Nurse in a busy Emergency Room in California, around the same time I was a Tech. This lady left a room full of people confused, because she sat down in a broken chair, spilled coffee all over white lab coat only to laugh at herself and skip off to get another cup of coffee.
Nobody ever saw Wendy in a foul mood or discouraged at all.
Today, was different. The moon was full, but invisible in the bright desert sun. The hospital attracted the most bizarre people when the moon was full. I can’t explain that so accept it. I have seen many hospitals nationwide, and all agree that the full moon tends to indicate an unusual day is coming. This day seemed to start out as any other full moon, frenzy could have started.
In the early morning the drunks were waking up pissed off, hung-over and hungry. The “frequent fliers” came in before six or seven like clock-work, usually looking for a quick pain shot, or a perscription bottle of pills. Many of these people even knew the ratio of their drug concoctions. “2 mg of Dilaudid and 2 mg of Benadryl, please!” would be the request from one person in our ER at least twice a week. That’s what we walked into at the beginning of our shift.
Since the shift was long we all tried to make it to the cafeteria before the mad rush hit, so we could eat breakfast. My breakfast got interrupted that day because some kid got his calf muscle chewed on by a pitbull and I had to hold him down while the doctor shoved his flesh back in and sewed him up. Then I had to rush to the tiny little corner room to do a long leg splint for a dude that fractured his femur, and was awaiting surgery. All in all the day was taking a strange path.
A massive wind gust had tossed 18-wheelers, mini-vans and cars off of the freeway like pebbles. Later I found out it was a total of fourteen vehicles piled up because of the high winds.
One lady was stuck in the cabin of her husbands truck for three hours with his dead body next to her. The fire department finally dug her out of the sand and began rushing people to our ER.
Wendy was the incoming triage nurse.
People on stretchers and gurneys constantly poured in, bleeding, crying, dirty and terrified. Another guy had been nearly decapitated in the accident, and I got to see inside his head! It was an exciting day if you could combine the terror and grief with genuine compassion.
But the vibe kept changing. Two or three underage people came in separately, with alcohol poisoning. Although, that was normal; it was 3 in the afternoon! Did all three teens drink alone at the same time in different schools? That day made no sense with all of the random cases and odd patients arriving.
Wendy whisked past me a few times that day cracking a crude, but hilarious joke almost every time. But as usual she smiled at everybody and rose above the negativity that began to strangle the whole department. Other nurses and doctors began to react to the pressure and take it out on patients or nurses. Some doctors vanished and left no pager number. So the remaining ones became more frustrated and made the entire staff on edge.
I hardly said a word to any of my co workers besides Wendy and a few others that were never negative. I didn’t want to irritate any nurse or doctor just to cause some scene five minutes later because of what I said. I kept my thoughts to myself but helped anybody I could find.
While I was making fun of the drunk children the emergency phone rang like a siren but nobody seemed to notice. Wendy answered it, three feet from me. I went over to her and tried to listen to the call but she hung up quickly somewhat confused.
“11 month old full arrest.” was all she said.
“What?!” asked Matt as he walked by the phone and overheard her.
Wendy just nodded and quietly grabbed my arm and asked me to help her get a room ready for a baby. (a full arrest means that both the lungs and heart have stopped) I did not even answer her before I went into the closest room.
Babies are awkward. Not to mention the nagging parents who are way too overprotective and usually just end up getting in the way and slowing down the process. Then add the morbid gloom of death, and you can understand a fraction of this situation.
I calmly told the patient and visitors in room 8 that I needed to move them to a different area. They agreed and hastily followed me because they had to. I was rolling the gurney out of the room as I talked. This person ended up waiting in the hallway with a front row seat to the drama of ER.
Wendy and I prepared the room in silence. I went to get the pediatric crash cart, while the Respiratory Therapist (RT) brought in ventilators and breathing apparatuses. I went to find another Tech that could help in the room, and Wendy found a doctor. We were all waiting in room 8 casually talking when the commotion hit the ambulance bay doors.
Five medics, and two EMT’s swarmed into the ER and were directed to us. What happened next was over within minutes. The RT put a tube into the boy’s lungs to secure an airway while I lightly performed one handed chest compressions. The other tech hooked the monitor up to view the vital signs. Wendy asked the mother to wait right outside the room, and came back in to start an IV in the baby.
She could not find a vein to stick the needle into, so she sent the other Tech to find an IO(Intraosseous) kit. An IO goes directly into the bone. Instead of going through the bloodstream, the medication enters the body through the bone marrow. It is painful. But babies veins are tiny and the drugs were the only way we could try to save him.
She got the IO into his shin, and I traded places with the RT. Now, I was squeezing bag’s full of air into his little lungs and RT was pumping on his chest. The doctor tried a few different drugs, and a few electric shocks but eventually declared the time of death. He threw his gloves in the trash before walking out of the room to face the mother. He lightly touched her shoulder and spoke quickly in spanish before he disappeared. Wendy caught the lady before she collapsed.
She began to scream and wail in spanish for all to hear. It was kind of disturbing. Her voice silenced the entire hospital it felt like. The RT disconnected all of his equipment and I started cleaning up the area. Wendy led the lady out of the room for a moment to try calming her down. The other tech went to the main entrance to get a translator.
I got the painful task of preparing the body for the morgue. Its weird being able to hold a corpse in one hand.
I took all the adhesive off and unhooked the tubes, leaving very little behind on the gurney besides the tiny cold body of a child. Being able to hear the mother’s murderous screams echo down the hall made my blood shiver. The mother ran into me as I was leaving the room. Wendy was right behind her and then followed the translator.
“Bummer,” thats all I could bring myself to say in my own head. I said nothing to the mother because I only spoke english. But I did giver her my best, “I’m sorry” face. She didn’t notice me. I didn’t care, I don’t do well with showing emotion.
So I went about my day helping the needy and tending to the sick and hurting people that were still alive.
But my friend Kara found me a few minutes before shift change and asked if I knew what happened with the baby. Kara was a phlebotomist and was a wealth of information. I told her the story.
Apparently, the child had a seizure while at daycare and the mom rushed in right behind the ambulance; hoping to see her son one more time. The seizure caused him to vomit and then choke. It was horrible but you cannot let things like that bother you in this field.
We knew the day was close to ending when the night shift crew started arriving. As they did we gathered our charts, and information to relay to the oncoming people. I happened to be near the main entrance getting some boxes of gloves when I saw Wendy with a look of terror on her face.
I had never seen that. I got nervous. I went to find out what was bothering her and I saw the mother of the child sitting in a chair talking with the translator. I had to do a double take, because in the stroller next to her was the little boy I had just put in a body bag!
“What the hell is going on?!” I said to Wendy loudly!
“The baby was a twin,” she explained. “…and the mom tried to kill this one!” My jaw dropped and I started to walk away but Wendy kept talking.
“She’s suicidal too,” she paused. “We are going to have to admit her.”
“Wow.” I mumbled. “I don’t even know what to say.”
“Don’t say anything, just go home, shift is almost over. I will make sure she is taken care of tonight.” said Wendy as confidently as possible.
“Are you sure?” I asked.
“Yes go home, and thank you for your help today. I couldn’t have done it without you.” she made me feel proud of myself. Even though I did nothing special, her amazing, attitude lifted my spirits. Even without an actual smile,she was still bubbling with compassion.
On my way home, the stench of death stayed with me. The shrill cries of the mom echoed in my head. I felt so horribly depressed and began replaying the events of the day.
That was the first time I did live chest compressions on an infant.
That was the first time I saw an IO slammed into a bone.
That was the first time I put a baby in a body bag.
That was the first time I saw pain in Wendy’s face.
That was the first time I realized the reality of death.
The reality of death is this:
Death is not biased, but it is unexpectedly inevitable.
Most of all, death has an overwhelming effect on anybody near it. This infant death was more powerful than any other I had seen. Maybe its because we think he should have lived.
Why did the baby die? Why couldn’t we save him? Facts may be able to explain these questions, but facts do nothing to calm the soul. Death still remains.
I know only one way to overcome the shroud of death and comfort those around it. Love. Genuine, unbiased, unexpected, unnecessary, eternal, honest love is the only way to approach such a tragic situation. Nothing else works.
I find that it is easy to love, and I don’t hide it. But the problem with loving the sick, troubled and dying people is the toll it takes on your mind, body and soul! Imagine zipping up a bag holding a tiny lifeless body, and immediately afterwards teach a teenager how to use crutches.
The medical field, especially in the ER, becomes a balancing act. You cannot allow yourself to be brought down by the turmoil, but you cannot abandoned loving care and compassion either! I was blindsided by this concept but could not find a solution!
There is no solution, only shortcuts and tricks. Wendy is an anomaly. Maintaining a compassionate, positive attitude without becoming depressed or traumatized is a gift.
The worst part is how the ‘normal’ healthcare workers handle the balance. Over time most of them become jaded or heartless. This kind of ‘coping mechanism’ steals joy. They get angry very easy, especially with patients. I’ve seen nurses laughing and joking about patients while they were in the room.
Worse still, I knew a doctor who would not spend more than five minutes in a room with anyone! No matter how bad the case or how critical the emergency, he never seemed to care! I saw him walk out in the middle of the patient’s sentence! Rude doesn’t even scratch the surface, when describing his bedside manner. Better yet he had no bedside manner, and seemed to hate everyone!
This is a dangerous path because it requires disconnecting from all emotion. However, emotion cannot be given any control, and must be carefully observed and analyzed. The emergency room is the ultimate battle of mind and emotion. Both must be used!
If I had to guess, the majority of healthcare professionals now, have become more like factory workers. They treat the patients like a piece of metal that needs to be forcibly fixed, rather than a human in pain that needs help! They get labeled by a room number and a chart instead of a name and a face.
Even though I became a bit jaded and frustrated, I have never denied a person in need if I could help. Whether or not I did actually help them; I may never know. But I always asked their name, and what they needed help with at the moment. My friend Wendy taught me the power of smile too. Even though my mind, soul and emotion screamed at me to be upset, my face always showed positivity.
I guess watching death and life come and go will affect anyone. Regardless of how it affects someone, the only part that matters is how they handle it. Wendy showed me a perfect example of how to do that.
Always show love.
Showing sincere love, without motive, to another human, eliminates negativity.