Dear Future Patient:
We haven’t met yet, but when we do please trust that you are in good hands. I will ask you about your medical history, your medications and even your age. Although I only know your first name, I may have to physically examine you or lift your shirt to place electrodes for an EKG. “Have you had these symptoms before?” You look scared and I know that the expression I am seeing is one you rarely allow others to see.
It’s 3:00am. Just five minutes ago I was awakened by the tone and quickly realized I was not home in my own bed. Having slept in my uniform all I have to do is put on my boots. Over the radio I am told your address, age, gender and chief complaint, which I quickly write down. I know that this night I will not sleep. Time stands still. Night seems like day.
How I wish you had updated your medications list. How I wish you were wearing a medic alert bracelet. I could better help you if I knew you were a diabetic, a heart patient or have early onset dementia. But since you are unresponsive, you can’t tell me. And since you live alone, there is no one to ask.
Sometimes you are so young and sometimes you are quite elderly, but the emotion is still the same. I know that you may pass while you are with me and wish not to be resuscitated; a wish I shall honor and respect. Sometimes you have already passed and I meet you for the first time when it is too late. Your skin looks ashen and delicate – your grey hair is still neatly combed as a reminder of the living person that once walked proudly among us.
And there are times when I find you have been hurting yourself, with drugs or self inflicted wounds and I tell you we can help you, that you don’t have to suffer, that you don’t have to live like this, that you can be happy. But, you refuse, you have your reasons and you have your mind. And since you are over eighteen, I must allow you to sign the paper and I watch you walk away. I wonder what will become of you; while at the same time I have this feeling we will meet again.
I look out the window at the cars on the highway. Everyone is rushing to somewhere – and no matter where they are going, it is a place that seems most important. And I want to yell at all the drivers, “Do you know what is happening right now?” “How can you seemingly ignore the sirens and cut us off?” “How I wish, just for a moment, you could see inside this hospital on wheels and realize a life hangs in the balance.”
We sit in silence as you rest. I watch your breathing, check your vitals and assess your appearance – in this moment you have become entwined with my own existence. It's the raw part of life and it's the most real and precious. There is no other place that I would rather be. For it is here that I experience true gratitude for my second chance at life and for all the clarity with which I walk this new path.
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