REFLECTING ON: Interaction with dying patient while volunteering in East Bay Emergency Room, pre-UCSF
Tonight, my glass is filled with wine and I’m raising it to Mrs. Martinez. I will quaff deeply, and breathe easy, for Mrs. Martinez. Just an hour ago, I watched this short little abuela struggle to breathe in her own body. Her lungs were filled with fluid from pneumonia and her cancer had metastasized to her chest cavity, putting added pressure on her lungs. Normal breathing rate is 12-15. She was breathing 40 breaths per minute while sitting down. She was running a marathon without moving. It’s weird the things that I notice while events like this are going on—she was still wearing her knit hat to cover her shiny baldhead, even when the physician was intubating her trachea. They administer drugs that paralyze her swallowing/gag reflex muscles like succinylcholine. And here I am, taking mental notes on the procedure, drugs that are administered, O2 levels, hear rate, and such, but I wasn’t totally sure that I should be there. They made the family members leave the room yet I was permitted to stay. The doctor even asked me top close the curtain so that nobody else could see. I suppose I get to stay because I know how to react in this situation—which is to not react, speak succinctly when spoken to, do what your told, and stay out of the way. The family might get hysterical, I suppose, and interfere. But it’s their grandma—their mother. I watched one nurse joke with another nurse while he was administering paralytic drugs to her chest and throat muscles. I kind of wanted to slap him awake so he could see how desensitized he appeared. Like I said, this is someone’s blood—best not to take that for granted. Then again, sometimes it’s the distance that allows us to do an “objective” job. I felt like a fly on the wall—a gnat that nobody wanted around. I guess everybody has to learn in some manner or another, and shit, that’s why I took this no-pay gig…this is all for the experience. I can’t help but be pissed at the college students that come in drunk with debaucherous, self-inflicted injuries when there are folks like Mrs. Martinez one room away. Self-inflicted injury just seems so fucking selfish and wasteful—a waste of time and resources that could be better allocated to people that are legitimately in need. It’s one in the morning and I gotta wake up early. Not only that, I got to wake up early, be on my shit, and I NEED to learn Spanish. I spoke Spanish two times this evening and made things work because of it. I gotta get fluent.