What I do, it’s hard.
Even harder is when it intersects with my personal life, affects those I love.
When it’s someone else’s friend, family member, colleague, it’s easier. It’s still tough, but eventually the emotions cool down and I can move on.
When it’s someone I know, have known, will know forever; that is when the intersection between work and life becomes a whirlpool and it’s really hard to swim to the surface.
The last month has been like this.
It’s hard to write about.
I worry I will traumatize the reader.
Read at your own risk, because no matter what you see on TV or the movies, life in the ER and the hospital is not all sex and drama and magical saving of lives.
Life in the ER is sometimes dark.
Life in the ER is sometimes light.
It can devastate
It can elevate
It can feel like torture, ripping out your guts as you fight and battle the system, the sickness, sometimes the patients and their families and even sometimes other health care workers.
It can feel like peace, rapture, working side by side with exceptional people who care deeply for the patients we all try to heal, seeing incredible outcomes at times.
But it’s never what you think it’s going to be when you start your day.
The last few weeks, medicine has been a maelstrom. Some days I feel like I’m sleeping; caught in a hurricane in a nightmare I can’t free myself from. My hair feels tangled and caught in barbed wire, my hands feel shackled, my heart feels squeezed inside a cage I can’t open.
People I care for have suffered, died, been diagnosed with conditions I can’t fix.
I am like an engineer with amputated thumbs.
A healer who can’t heal.
Death, I know you. We are sometimes friends, we are often foes. There are times I call you into the room with me to guide my patient to a safer, quieter, more peaceful place. There are times I curse you and push you out with all my might, tell you that you are not welcome in my resuscitation room. And then, there are times that I let my patient tell me which of these they want.
Some days, a sick woman who I could potentially save will hold my hand and say, “It’s ok. I want to go. I’m done suffering. I lived a good life”.
Other days, a terminally ill man with dementia, with no real hope for cure, will have caregivers who are the substitute decision makers and ask me to resuscitate no matter the cost and no matter the suffering to the patient.
Death, there are days I beg you to walk away. Withhold your promise of quiet days and calm nights. Take with you the eternal void. Let me do my job; let me heal.
I wish you would have listened this week. You took someone very dear, vibrant, exceptional. You grabbed in your greedy embrace someone who was not done living, and by turning up the dial on her pain you made her ask for release.
I curse you for it.
I thank you for it, at the end, when it was too much for her to bear.
But I will continue to fight you for those we can save.
I promise, to be a shield against your reaching claws.
But I also promise, not to thrust you away when the patient before me needs you.
Just please, leave the rest I love alone. For now.