Wednesday, September 05, 2007


* bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep *

I felt a cold chill run through my veins as a wave of sweat exuded from my pores. My head had just hit the pillow an hour ago, and my rem cycle, which had come rapidly, was interrupted once again. I fumbled for the pager and sat at the edge of the bed. I pushed the button, but couldn’t read a thing – it seems the illuminating light on the pager had bit the bullet long ago. Damn.

So I shuffled in to the room next door and switched on the desk lamp. My eyes withdrew at the glare and my eyelids felt a bit like sandpaper as my eyes drew into focus:


The ICU. *sigh* Wish it had been someone else.

I called.

“Dr Fisher?”

“Yep,” said briefly, so as to conserve energy.

“How do I get a defibrillator turned off on a patient who’s expectant?”

I thought for a moment. I realized I could try to talk the resident through this, but it would be a hassle, and calling a device company rep to do this seemed inappropriate, so I succumbed.

“Can it wait until the morning?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Okay, I’ll be right in.”

The drive in was refreshing, and served to helped resuscitate my brainstem. It was a clear, warm night. I went straight to the cath lab and grabbed the programmer for the defibrillator and arrived in the ICU. There, staring up to the ceiling with his mouth open was a frail man who had clearly fought valiantly his last battle. He seemed comfortable, breathing rapidly, but certainly unaware of his surroundings. He was much skinnier than I had remembered him from six years prior, for I had placed his device. I called to him, but there was no response. He was busy transitioning from this world.

So I programmed off the tachycardia detections of his device and returned to the nurse’s desk to record my actions on the patient’s medical record. Soft music hung softly at the desk above the drone-like din of the nearby monitors. The resident was fascinated by the technologic wonders of the technology at my fingertips as I explained the principles of the device programmer. The old man’s nurse approached.

“Thanks for coming in.”

“Thanks for calling,” I said.

I looked on the desk and there were two huge jars of peanut butter, an open bag of miniature Hershey’s dark chocolate bars, and a bag of miniature pretzels.

“Dinner?” I asked.

“No, just a snack, but they provide real energy at times like this. Try it. Just put some peanut butter on the chocolate bar, and then add a pretzel. Help yourself. You’ll feel better. I’m going to go in there to stay with him.”

I tried the chocolate and peanut butter but passed on the pretzel. It was a taste sensation like no other at two in the morning. Nurturing. And as I typed my note I couldn’t help but think about that nurse: an expert at care from all angles. I peered in the room and saw her holding his hand. There she was, someone who quietly cared about a dying, feeble man who was moving from this world to the next and who didn’t want him to be alone.

I suspect such scenes are repeated countless times in ICU’s around the world but you never hear about them.

Until now.



rlbates said...

Lovely! Thanks for sharing this.

Corrinne May said...

Beautifully written, compassionately observed. Thank you for this lovely post.

Margaret Polaneczky, MD (aka TBTAM) said...

Lovely, post. Thanks