Welcome to EMS
“Screaming” is not one of those words most people think of first when it comes to medicine. It’s generally an expression of angry or pain. Pain as in physical pain. Although, pain in our daily lives more offend comes in the form of emotional pain. It stings in a way Advil or Neosporin cannot take the edge off. For my first clinical patient experience, screaming was reaction to something nothing could take the edge off: death.
I was nearing the end of my time training to become an Emergency Medical Technician and was require to work at the Emergency Department for a six hour shift. I had choose to work Easter Sunday at night. As the night came closer to the end, the ER department received a call that there was an incoming active CPR. A shot of adrenaline kicked through my body and a smile worked its way across my face as knots twisted in my stomach. I had never worked nor see a CPR before, even though I had been a lifeguard for three years.
“Would it be okay if I watched?” I asked the ER technician I had been shadowing. He replied that he did not think it would be a problem and we proceed to work as we waited. Before I knew it, I was in the crisp white trauma bay waiting for the CPR to come in. The patient was a sixteen year old female, my age, who had hung herself. The CPR had been in progress for thirty minutes already. Her chances were not good. Yet, I stood in the corner and waited.
Throw Into It
“Do you know CPR?”
An older nurse whipped around and stared at me. I must have looked like a deer in the headlights as I had desperately been trying to not call attention to myself. Eventually, I found the words to say “yes”, which assured my place. I would be the one taking over CPR from the paramedics once she arrived.
From then it was all action, so quick I could not process what was going on around me. I stood on a stool so I could be positioned over the cot at the right angle to provide compressions. They wheeled her in on the stretcher while a firefighter gave compressions as he stood on the edge of the stretcher and another at her head with an advance airway giving continuous respiration. In a clean fluid motion, she was lifted and placed on the hospital cot – my turn. I place myself over her and provided compression. I tried to focus on just the rhythm as I sung “Staying Alive” in my head. Though my eye drift to look at her. Long hair fell around her face too perfectly while a c-collar brace her visibility broken neck and tape held in place a tube for her airway. She looked like my friends, but I knew she wasn’t.
Death Isn’t Always Silent
A cold hand light touched my shoulder and I knew I should stop compressions. I had been so focused I did not even hear him call time of death. “We tried everything folks” the doctor spoke as I stepped down from the stool. I collected myself and tried to process what had happened.
When a scream pierced the cold air of the hospital, we ran out of the room into the hallway. A nurse silently stopped us. In unity, we realized it was the patient’s parents. They had just been told of her death. Her pain made my eyes swell with tears that I pushed back. I left a few minutes later; however, sat in my car and bawled.
Real Face of Medicine
Medicine is not always about the win or the fix. A large part is about loss and failure. I promised myself to continue on and be a good healthcare provider. To me that meant having the best skills and interpersonal, not because I could not save that one patient. I would do it so that I could handle the worst situation and failure with as much grace as I handle the best one. If I could handle death on my first day, then I could handle the gritty, hard parts of healthcare. The loss had solidified my passion to work in healthcare, even if it meant I would have days were I told parents they lost their child on Easter. I still want to be a doctor.