I cannot quite recall the first time I lost a patient. Lost meaning death. But what I do recall is the stench of death. You might not believe it but even death has a very distinct aura. I have lost many patients along my career path and yes it is sad but I have also somewhat adapted to it and thus it has almost become second nature. Yes I concur it is strange. And I do not expect you to comprehend this.
So imagine my surprise this past week when death immensely shook me and not only that but kept me up all night. So up I stayed and went to bed when daylight finally returned. I could not get the death of this one patient out of my head. I kept re-living it in my head. And each time I felt the hairs on my neck stand up and my stomach turned upside down.
The death bug struck me back to back on Tuesday and again on Wednesday. On Thursday surprisingly given my sleep-deprived state I was in the clear. Little did I know death would rear its ugly face once again as if in an attempt to make it my worst week yet like it hadn't already.
But come Friday I was ready for it. How you ask? when the paramedics transported my patient upon assessment I noticed he was already starting to mottle meaning he was actively dying. I stood by the wife of 65 years as she held his hand and whispered how she loved him in death. She left shortly after tightly grasping my hand and begging me to ensure he did not suffer. So when he started to struggle for air and hold his breath I stood by him and rubbed his head. Rubbing his head I gently sung (It is well) close to his ear. Peacefully he stopped struggling for air and stopped breathing as life escaped him. As his body grew cold I couldn't help thinking his wife's wish had come true, he had not suffered. I simultaneously glanced at my watch for the time of death as I called the wife to inform her of his passing.
So yes I kicked death's ass by being at peace as my patient headed to the after life. My neck hairs did not stand this time but I was overwhelmed and in an unfathomable haze of both confusion and clarity as I subconsciously marveled at how the line between life and death is not just thin but faint.
Working in an environment where death is constantly imminent has taught me that life is much more shorter than we perceive it to be. At the risk of sounding cliche it has taught me to not just live a little but really live life.