I’ll cry if I want to…

In two days time I am driving across the country to begin a new job. One of the reasons I started my WordPress account is that I was laid off from my job about 4 years ago, and I needed some way to channel my thoughts and occupy my time. This new adventure is such a huge change for me, not only because I have not had “regular” employment for 4 years, but also because I have never lived away from home. I don’t mean that figuratively – I have literally lived in the same house for my entire life. I didn’t go away for college and the longest I’ve ever been away from home is for 3 weeks.

I had big plans for today. I was going to run some last-minute errands, finish packing, and have a marathon of Summer Heights High playing in the background. At about 2 pm today I heard a thump in front of my house followed by the worst siren I’ve ever heard. I live in an area where sirens, car accidents and even fights are not all that unusual, but something was different about this siren. I opened the front door to see a dog laying in the middle of the street, who had just been clipped by a car. The husky was trying to move out of the middle of the street but his back legs had been badly injured. The “siren” had been his cries of pain. I ran out to the middle of the street and held the dog in my lap for about half an hour while waiting for animal control to come and assess his condition.

My neighborhood has had it shares of ups and downs. Over the decades, there has been a lot of transition, changes in the community and even violence. But today…today I was so proud of my neighborhood. Everyone responded so quickly. Seconds after I got to Balto, neighbors were directing traffic around us, calling 911, contacting animal support, and getting in touch with the dog’s owners. As I held Balto cradling his head in my lap, his 11-year-old owner came running up, tears streaming down her face. She held my arm and kissed Balto’s head, saying “But he has to be okay. He’s a dad…and he has a dog wife.” It took everything in me to keep from bawling in front of this child, the whole time my brain saying “Dammit kid, I am barely holding it together right now.” I hastily wiped off the dog blood from my arms and hands so she wouldn’t see.

At one point I looked up at a woman who was helping me to keep Balto calm and said, “Today is my birthday…” (I told you I had other plans for the day). She looked at me with tear-brightened eyes and said, “Oh shit.” Animal control came and transported Balto to the emergency vet. I don’t know what’s happened to Balto. I don’t know his humans, only that they live somewhere a few streets down. I don’t even know their names.

I fell in love with that dog in all of five minutes. And such is life. We love. And we say goodbye. It only takes a moment to love, and we are changed by that love just as quickly. And then, we have to pack up our boxes, fill up the car, and take our leave. And it sucks. We bleed out our love and cry out our loss. Loving and saying goodbye is messy, bloody, and hard; then we wake up and do it all again the next day, because we have to. And we speak in metaphors because sometimes the truth requires words that we don’t have.

Advertisements

Silent Dreams

I had a dream last night.
I dreamed of my grandfather.
He was young and yet old,
looked like his portrait from when he was 30,
but he had kept his 94-year-old soul.
We watched TV together and ate lunch.
He told me about grandma,
who passed away when I was only six,
about when he first knew he loved her
and their early life together.
He gave me advice,
but I couldn’t hear the words.
And in my dream, I wept.
I wept because he is gone,
been gone for four years now.
I wept because we talked,
and because the words he spoke were silent.

grampa

Grieving

Grieving tonight with those affected by the tragedy in Sandy Hook, Connecticut.

candle

“Cold is the water
It freezes your already cold mind
Already cold, cold mind
And death is at your doorstep
And it will steal your innocence
But it will not steal your substance
But you are not alone in this
And you are not alone in this
As brothers [and sisters] we will stand
and we’ll hold your hand
Hold your hand.”

– from Mumford and Sons, “Timshel”

 

Death with a Stranger

I had no idea that morning in late winter that I would be changed.  That I would go to work at my first clinical site in the hospital and walk out as a different person.  But the facts of what happened have been packed away in my brain, to surface again,  at a later, and most inconvenient time.  The weight of that day sits on my chest like lead.  And I know I am different.

The patient was an older man, about 79, who had suffered a broken humerus.  He barely spoke English and throughout the procedure the head tech kept attempting to converse with him in Spanish, although we found out later the reason he could not respond is because he was actually Haitian.  Go figure.  He had broken his arm in Haiti and his son who was an x ray tech at a sister hospital had flown him to NJ so he could receive better medical care.  I often wonder if he regrets that decision given the way things played out.

He was brought down to the radiology department for some standard x rays after the surgery to hammer a rod down the shaft of the bone.  He was in pain. And he was confused.  As a clinical student it was my job to be in the room to assist in taking the x rays.  We left him on the stretcher and moved the equipment around to get the shots we needed.  It was difficult if not impossible to explain to him what was happening.  I have never heard a person make the sounds that came from the patient as we tried to move him.  He sounded more like a wounded dog than a man.

As the tech tried to set up the correct positioning, the man looked at me with frightened eyes, and I felt I had no way to comfort him.  I held his hand.  And it was me holding his hand as he went into cardiac arrest.  At first, I wasn’t aware of what was happening.  His eyes began to roll back and his breathing became shallow.  The tech saw what I had failed to see.

“Amigo. Amigo! Wake up amigo!”

No response.  Even then, I was not fully understanding the situation.  We had a Haitian speaking classmate who tried to talk to him.  At that point, I think he was too incoherent to understand, even in his own language.  The head tech rushed from the room and I heard a “Code Blue!” called over the loudspeaker.  It wasn’t until then that I realized what was happening.  This man, that I didn’t know looked at me, tightening his grip on my hand, and then he began seizing.  Some of this is just a blur even though I remember most of the rest in slow motion.  Like the feeling of diving to the bottom of the pool.  We were pushed from the room and left out in the hall.

The tech knew that we were worried, and brought those of us who wanted to see what was happening around the other side to watch through the leaded glass.  The man lay on the stretcher, gown around his waste as the doctors attempted to insert a triple lumen catheter in the groin area.  I remember feeling a profound sense of immodesty for him.  This man that I didn’t even know.  He was nearly naked, not breathing, and in a state of complete vulnerability.  I had no other thought than “at least pull his gown down.”  Seems silly now that I would be concerned with something so small when a man’s life was ebbing away.  I watched, with the tech by my side, for 45 minutes while the doctors worked on him like he was a CPR dummy.

And we were sent to lunch.  Sober.  Quiet.  We were all thinking the same thing.  There was no joking, and not much small talk.  We headed back up to our department. ” What happened to the patient?”

“Oh baby, he’s gone.”

By then, the room was clean and set back to order.  At the end of the day we were seeing other patients in the same room.  It was if a man had not passed through that veil, just hours before.  I had a nagging thought that I couldn’t shake.  They had not used paddles on the patient.  I’m humble enough to be sure that the doctors know more than I do, but it seemed that if saving his life was a possibility, the paddles would have been used.  I asked one of the techs about it.  He looked at me gently.  “Baby, he was probably already gone by the time they got down here.  But we’re a teaching hospital. So we teach.”

I felt sick. Sick because I realized that I was most likely holding his hand as he passed.  Me, a girl he never met before, while his son was a mere 10 minutes away working at another hospital.  I held his hand, while his son didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye.  And sick that I had spent 45 minutes watching doctors practice on a man, who was already gone.

I was curious about the name of the hospital since it was named after a Catholic saint so I did a little research.  From what I could find, this saint acts as the chief opponent of Satan to the saving of souls at the hour of death.  I don’t know if this is true.  I would love to believe it is, because of it’s confidence, that even at the moment of death, there is hope.  What I know for certain is that God is not only just, He is merciful.  And I have hope that this stranger who held my hand as he died was shown mercy in his final hours.

I never said goodbye to him. I don’t know where he is buried.  I don’t know much about his family.  I held his hand as he said goodbye to this life and escaped into the dark and all the mysteries that lie beyond.

I packed up my backup with the day’s experience.  As I drove home, cigarette in hand to try and stop the shaking, one thought went through my head.  “I don’t understand this. Not yet. Maybe not ever. But I am different today.