One Moment in Time
The wind played around the ER like a truant child. We stood in the shelter of the building huddled together against the cold. Our attention was riveted on the sky as we watched for the lights of the helicopter bringing a multiple injury from a motorcycle accident. It was Christmas Eve, and someone had gotten his Christmas present early.
I thought of the local orthopedist who had bumper stickers made expressing his fear and concern: “Give your kid a motor bike for his very last birthday!” Please let this not be the very last Christmas for this prospective patient.
We heard it before we saw it. The rumble of the propellers against the wind sounded like grinding teeth. We crossed our fingers and said a silent prayer for the skill of the pilot to navigate man and machine against nature.
Like a great bug, the machine touched the ground with a little jump and stirred the adrenalin in our bodies as we started to run. Our heads ducked in practiced reverence to the still whirling props. Bent like charging bulls, we ran. Our white lab coats billowing behind, we ran to meet what we didn’t want to see.
In one motion, the door slid open, and the EMT jumped to the ground, the whirling light reflecting against the blue helmet like a psychedelic Christmas ornament. As he helped lift the carrier to our waiting stretcher, the ER physician shouted over the whine of the engines, “What do we have?”
In spite of the cold, beads of sweat glinted over the lip of the EMT as he forced words like puffs of smoke through his clenched teeth. “Twenty-seven year old male, got hit, t-boned at the intersection a block from his house by a drunk driver in a Mercedes.”
The stretcher secured, we started the run through the cold to the waiting crew in the trauma room. With the whoosh of the electric door, the crew began their well-practiced and dreaded golden hour. All too familiar were the sounds of latex gloves being pulled on and, “Get him over here, get him over here!”
Gloved hands reached to lift our precious cargo under the glare and warmth of the huge overhead lights. “Let’s get a tube in. No pulse! Cut these clothes away! I hate winter.”
No BP palpable, charge it! Charging! Clear!” Next came the thump of directed electricity: “Epi, epi, warm the Ringers, open it wide. Get Neuro in here! Where’s X-Ray? Get them in here!”
“Oh my God, look at this leg! Get some pressure on that!”
“What’s his name — Jason, Jason, can you hear me? You’re in the hospital. Hang on boy, come on boy!”
“What time is it? Somebody, what’s the rhythm?”
“Charge 360, Clear!”
“His folks are here. Shut that door, somebody. Alice, get someone out there with them. They need us, they want him.”
“Come on, Jason, come on, Jason. Nothing. Charge, charge, clear?”
“Whatta you got? Whatta you got?”
“We’ve lost him,” came a whisper that echoed off the walls like thunder.
The room was so suddenly hushed you could hear the collective sigh of the group. My reverie was broken when I felt his hand on my arm, “Come with me. I’m going to talk to his family.”
They were in the Chapel, holding tightly to each other and rose in unison when we entered the room. Seeing our faces, his mother opened her mouth in soundless terror then buried her face in her husband’s shoulder. His arm came up to pull her closer into his shelter.
“I’m so sorry,” the doctor and I said in unison.
“I know you did all you could. We’d just like to see him and give you this. And, please don’t say anything else. I don’t think she can take it. We will talk after we’ve seen him. Now we would like to be alone for awhile. Come for us when we can see him,” the father said in a tear-laden voice, then he turned away to comfort his wife.
As we walked silently back to the ER I looked at the card Jason’s father had given me. “Look, doctor, it’s a donor card.”
We stared a the card and the smiling face of a very noble young man who this Christmas was giving the greatest gift of all.
Turning his head so I would not see the tears that I heard in his voice, Dr. Tagen stared out at the night. For this one moment in time, we stood mesmerized by the dark of the night and the light of humanity that we had witnessed. For a second time he touched my arm, and I could hear the awe above the tears in his voice as he whispered, “Look, Phyllis, it’s snowing.”
“Well, I think it is a little prayer that God built in for us to use when we are too busy to pray.”
At that moment, I knew this was true. All who struggled to keep this young man with us each offered a prayer that he would be welcomed and comforted at the end of his Christmas Eve journey.
Phyllis A. Gallagher McNatt, BSN, BA, RNC
Nursing Administration, Riverside Tappahannock Hospital
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