There are things we just don’t say. I don’t care what tv depicts.
“Everything’s going to be ok.”
“He passed on.”
Because often, very often, things are not ok. They may never be ok again. For this family, this woman, on this night, in this sunny living room or this ditch in the rain or in the back of two ambulances parked along the roadside – the world ended. Their life, as they knew it, just stopped and no matter how many classes I’ve taken or how hard we try – it will never resume to the same beat, in that key. It will go on, with a void or with a painful knot in the throat. It will heal over that wound but the scar lives forever.
We can’t fix that. We can give all the drugs and do all the things in the right order and we can pray fervently under our breath or in our mind or not at all because we’re too busy or don’t believe in it. But sometimes the fact is, it is not going to be ok. And he didn’t pass on. He died. Before you called or while I was with him or sometime during the drive.
“We did everything we could but all our efforts were unsuccessful and he died. I’m sorry for your loss.”
And then we pack up the debris of organized chaos and we make necessary phones calls as the case may be. Wait with you until family arrives. Look at our boots because we want to give you privacy but we don’t want to leave you alone in your suddenly alien surroundings with the huge new gaping loss screaming silently. And someone comes and we again express our condolences and then we leave. We put our equipment back in our truck or apparatus and we drive down the street, up the lane, out of your life.
But we carry you with us. We carry a hush in our footsteps for a few minutes or hours. Maybe we think of our parent or spouse or child. We push those thoughts out of our heads because even our own mortality isn’t as horrible to think about as that of those we love.
The biggest kindnesses in this job, to me, will forever be these: a silent hand on the shoulder, anti nausea medicine, pain medication, and honesty. I won’t draw out your hope any more than I will dig for an IV if there is no palpable vein.
Everything may not always be ok, but we will come when you call, we will do everything we know how to do and we will do it for as long as there is a possibility of success. And when we can do no more, we will explain it to you simply and honestly.
In those moments of sobering humanity, the best thing we can offer you is ourselves. We will be there, we will give another patient and another family and another worst day all we have.
That is our promise. It is an honor. And one day – everything will be mostly ok again.
We know, because we are mostly ok.