I walk into the room, never run, always walk, running means seeing only what’s in front of you, walking means seeing it all, assessing, evaluating where I’m needed, where I’m most useful.
As soon as I walk in, I know my role. There’s no panic, we continue systematically, everyone plays their part. I’m on compressions.
It doesn’t take long for the familiar crack that lets me know I’ve now broken several ribs. It’s an awful feeling and even worse sound.
I press on, there is now no barrier stopping me from massaging his heart. I look at the monitors, there is an instant increase in blood pressure. Good, that means more oxygen is being pushed where it needs to go.
Only eight reasons cause a heart to misbehave. Until we know the reason for this heart to misfire, we keep going. We won’t stop. He deserves our best.
As we go through the list we get a feeling for where things are heading. Sometimes, despite best efforts, a person’s soul has another destination in mind. As the doctor approaches we have a sense of what is about to be said.
This time the words are different. The request is simple: “This man’s mother would like to be with her son when he dies”.
It’s not an unfair request to want to spend the last moments of someone you love before they depart this life. I was there when you came into this world, I want to be there when you leave.
His mother enters the room, I hear her before I see her. The visceral scream that alerts us all to the primitive pain of a mother’s breaking heart.
She collapses before me, holding her son. My job is much harder now, almost impossible but I continue as best I can.
I try to switch off to her pain but I can’t, it’s too real and too close. I can only look away and find somewhere else to try and protect myself from her pain.
I shift my eyes above her, hoping to find a spot on the wall where I can reset my mind. But as I look up, my eyes meet another.
The stare hits me like a freight train. The distress and agony in those eyes are controlled but no less contained.
The pain of an older brother, helpless in the moment but knowing he will be the one to have to carry his mother and her aching heart, as well as his own, well into the future.
He continues to look at me and with my mind I beg him to stop. I know your pain, I carry it as well, but I can’t carry it tonight, my hands are already full.
He doesn’t look away, he continues to stare and in the moments that followed his face disappears and is replaced by a more familiar one, a face no less distraught, a face distorted with pain and still feeling helpless, the face of my sister.
Six weeks before, I woke to a call. “It’s um, it’s...” She struggles for composure, the quiver in her voice heard through the phone “Something happened, they found him unconscious last night, he’s gone, he’s dead”.
I head straight there and see the furniture shifted from where they found him. My sister’s first words: “Why didn’t it work, we tried, it’s meant to work.”
I didn’t know what to say, but I knew how she felt. I was looking at her face right now, six weeks later, hundreds of kilometers away.
“Is everyone ok to stop?” It’s the call that comes from the doctor that snaps me back to reality. It’s asked as a question, but it’s not.
My job now is done. I step around the bed and into the hallway.
“I’m sorry we couldn’t do more,” I say as I walk to the brother. In my mind I follow with “I know your pain” but this doesn’t come, not tonight.
This is his time, his job is to grieve his own brother, not mine. I carry that. As I walk away I allow stray tears to fall, I wipe my face, straighten my shirt and head back out to the floor.
There’s a long night ahead and breaks to be covered.
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