In the hospital, suffering from myocarditis, Dave accidentally pulled the heart pump out of his vein. This meant that he'd have to have a new heart pump inserted. Instead, while waiting to get the new pump, he crashed. That heart pump had been helping his terribly damaged heart keep plugging along and without it his vitals went downhill fast.
The doctors threw everyone else out of the room and I never saw Dave conscious again. From that room, he was transported by ambulance to a bigger hospital where they had better technology. I wasn't able to ride in the ambulance with him. He died in that ambulance.
CPR brought back his pulse, but he crashed again and they were not able to bring back a pulse that time. Since then, I have not been able to see an ambulance without having to catch my breath. It's not quite a full panic attack, but it is a fear response, for sure. It's not just the thought of the patient's suffering in that rig. It's also the idea of the family that has already or is about to learn that they might lose their person.
When their sirens and lights are on, it's even worse. I have to focus on breathing when they scream by. I'm only able to breathe a full breath again once they're gone.
Oddly, about a year after he died, I moved less than a block from an ER. I never thought twice about it. I didn't fear it. I didn't consider that I'd be confronted with more ambulances than ever. And it hasn't really been a problem. I've had less and less of a fear response when I see or hear them.
The streetcar stop I take to get to campus is directly across from the ER doors, though. As I sit there, waiting for the train, I see ambulances come into the ER bay over and over as I wait. I see people being pulled out of them on stretchers. The other day I saw one young man's face clearly through the ambulance window. His face was covered in blood. I felt my heart constrict in pain for him and his people.
The effect of seeing this as a part of my day has been really interesting and completely unexpected, though. I've begun to have less of a fear response and more peace.
There's nothing peaceful about remembering the trauma of that day that Dave's life ended in an ambulance, without me. There's nothing peaceful in the reminder that at that moment, folks and their family members are suffering.
However, there is something weirdly comforting in the fact that death and the ensuing pain (though in this culture we like to pretend it isn't) is simply natural, expected and a part of life. It doesn't make it okay and I'm not saying it doesn't still terrify me.
I'm saying that I think sometimes we are so separate from the end of life that we forget how much a part of it we all are.
It's not something we might experience, it's something we will experience. It might happen in an out of order way, which makes things much more tragic and difficult to understand and grieve, but it will happen, regardless. We will leave behind loved ones. We will watch loved ones leave this earth. It is a part of our existence. Being confronted with it on a regular basis has helped me lose some of my horrific fear of the trauma of it. It's helped me lose some of the denial around the idea of it.
I'm not sure it was a coincidence that I moved so close to an ER. I think it was a part of my healing to end up in a place where I'd see the evidence of the truest truth of all.
We die. We leave this place. We go somewhere else. It's sometimes a peaceful exit. It's sometimes terrifying, painful, shocking. But it's what we do.
Why have we, as a society, gotten so good at pretending it's not coming? Why has it become such an uncomfortable topic? How much of our fear around our dying loved ones is based on our inexperience with the idea, with our "ignore it and it won't happen"mentality?
Not that there's any way to prepare for the actual grieving process, but I have been wondering more and more about why we're all in such great denial. Does it really serve us to pretend it won't happen to us and ours?
Is that a lesson that only those of us who've ushered a dear loved one out of this world can truly understand?
I sit on that bench watching those vehicles of fear (and of rescue) bringing hurting, scared people to the place where they might die. I think again and again about how incredibly fragile we are, how life is a miracle and how I'm lucky to have right now because it is truly all I ever have.
I think about the beauty inherent in pain and how pain has brought me clarity, peace and a completely different outlook on life. I never imagined I'd live a stone's throw from an ER, but I'm actually glad I do.