A young woman a few years older than me, Amanda came in with terrible chest pain. When I placed her on the cardiac monitor and a pulse oximeter on her finger, we found that her heart rate was rapid and oxygen saturation very low. Unsustainably low. She was gasping for breath and bathed in sweat. Her large eyes locked mine and I couldn’t look away. Although the day was very busy, I stopped in her room every minute or so to silence the alarms that sounded for her elevated heart rate and breathing rate.
Soon after, worried about the effort it was causing her to breathe, the attending physician gently spoke into her ear. Amanda, we want to help you. We are afraid your body won’t be able to sustain the effort of breathing anymore, so we want your permission to put you to sleep for a little while and let a breathing machine help you. She did not have the energy to resist. There was something seriously wrong with her and she knew it. She had to put faith in the system, in us. Keep this safe for me, she said removing her engagement ring from her finger, S, thank you so much for being here for me.
She grasped my hand as I heard “Push the etomidate.” Help me, she murmured dizzily, help me, I don’t want to die. “Twenty of sux,” and her hand went limp in mine. Her sister and fiancée came in a few minutes later. Seeing her on a ventilator, he began to wail, baby, baby, I love you, oh God, throwing his arms around Mandy’s sister as the world spun around them. When they calmed down to soft sobs as we transported Mandy upstairs, I gave him her ring. I will never forget the look he gave me as his eyes welled up once more- "thank you so much for all that you all have done for her."
Finding out she died that night was like a physical blow. I was winded. I was with her at the last moment of consciousness she ever knew. What did I do to deserve that honor?
I am not sure, but in the months since I briefly flitted into the life of Mandy and others like her, I have found that there is too much in this world to live for and too many people who want to live who can’t.
Live, love, and appreciate the people you have. Anything can change in a moment.