Friday, October 7, 2011

Mortally Wounded

I remember it.

As the call room door closed behind me, all semblance of light disappeared. I felt no guilt about missing rounds. I stumbled to the bed and sat down. Cradling my head in my hands, I waited for the gush of tears. They never came. Neither did the gut wrenching nausea or the searing pain in the chest. Nothing.

I felt absolutely nothing.

And that's when I knew I was lost.


I was overwhelmed within the first few minutes of internship. I clutched my stethoscope with sweaty hands as I followed the chief resident from ward to ward. He chattered incessantly listing a series of do's and dont's. I was barely listening.

The nurses bustled to and fro as I loitered by the chart rack. Eventually the chief returned with another resident in tow.

This is Jim. It's his last day of residency. He can't be hurt anymore!

My mind reeled. What did that mean..."can't be hurt anymore". Hurt by whom?

My question never made it to my lips. Jim quickly sputtered off a list of patients for me to follow. He handed me his pager and placed his arm around my shoulder.

Good Luck!

Sometimes, in the lonely moments over the next few years, I would wonder how Jim became invincible.


It's not like patients never died before. As a second year resident, I manned the ICU on my own. But this one was different.

Maybe I was a little to cavalier when I decided to intubate. Maybe not. But the damn tube wouldn't go down. And then Anaesthesia never showed up. We kept on paging and paging.

I finally got the tube in and within moments, he coded. We worked on him for thirty minutes.

When I called his wife, she seemed strangely distant. She came at 2am to sign the papers and make funeral arrangements. She didn't ask any questions.

With a heavy heart I worked through the rest of the night. There were too many sick patients to stop and mourn. To process. It was only later that it hit my like a ton of bricks.


The first daughter phoned from out of state. She explained that she didn't talk to her stepmother and was wondering how her father was doing. Moments later she was screaming at me.

The second daughter called from the road and would be arriving in a few hours. Her crying horrified me. It never stopped. After a few minutes the line went dead.

I told the last daughter in person.

She collapsed into my arms.


I would never hear from any of these women again. But they changed me.

Their grief left an indelible mark on my soul that would last long after residency.

By the time I handed my pager to a brand new intern I was mortally wounded. I was dead.

I guess I couldn't be hurt anymore either.

1 comment:

Gary M. Levin said...

Powerful description, over 40 years ago I remember that was exactly how I felt the first several days of internship (first rotation CCU..12 admissions, 6 deaths....numb at the end of internship....glad to be drafted into the Navy for two years. Cried the last day of internship...