It had been a slow night in the ER, even for a Tuesday. Aside from a few run of the mill heart attacks early in the evening, as the night crept on, ambulance traffic slowed, then came to a halt. The floor settled into an uneasy peace until four o’clock in the morning, when I heard screams approaching the double doors. “Help! Help me, please! My daughter. She isn’t breathing!” The young mother gasped in short bursts, struggling to breathe and pulling at my scrub top as we met at the emergency entrance. “How old is she?” I looked down at what appeared to be a four or five year old child, with cold, blue lips, and no visible injuries. For a moment, I considered the mother may be too hysterical to answer. “She’s Five. The neighbors…their dog was barking. I woke up. Went in to check on Kayla, she was cold. My head…it’s pounding. Oh God, what’s wrong with her?” I checked her pulse for good measure. Nothing. By this time, Cassandra, the night shift CNA, had come to carry the mother off to a waiting area, where she would meet with a doctor who would assure her that we “did everything we could,” and before the realization of loss could weigh in, she would face tough questions from police. I paged a code, and continued CPR on the dead girl while waiting for a team of doctors to arrive. After submitting the night’s paperwork and giving the shortest report in weeks, I would be on my way out at seven.
I first discovered I wanted to be a nurse before it was acceptable for men to be nurses. In Toys R Us, while all the other boys hovered around the electronic toys, picking out monster trucks and remote control cars, I was often over in what was considered the girls’ section, where the nurses’ uniforms and toy medical kits were stocked in neat, inviting rows. I imagined one day using a stethoscope to listen to a dying kid’s heart like I saw paramedics doing on that show Rescue 911. My first experience with a real emergency, and the first time I got to see the dirty work in color came when I was just twelve. My buddy Ryan and I were skateboarding in the U shaped cement outflow of an old, drained pond in our neighborhood when, going out of our way to show off our skills, one of us was bound to get hurt. Ryan crested to the top of our private half pipe on the side opposite me, and for a brief moment, our eyes met, as we laughed and smiled at one another, sharing in the boyish rush of adrenaline and youth. As he descended, a stray rock or stick, or some other debris became tangled in the wheels. A sharp crack and skidding issued from the board, but the cry from Ryan was unmistakable. Terrified to look, I still found myself wanting to see. Besides, no one even knew we were here, so if he couldn’t make it out, I would have to go find help. I turned to look and saw skids in black and red. Tire and blood. I saw Ryan, lying in a heap, his left leg twisted in an impossible shape. Jeans ripped just below the knee opened to reveal the white of protruding bone. I sat for a moment, frozen, not knowing how to respond. I had never seen such an intense injury, I had never seen a part of the body come out from its comfortable hiding place beneath the skin. “Andy, Andy? Go get my Mom! Please.” Still, I sat there staring as Ryan pleaded. I felt frozen by fear, confusion, but most of all, fascination. I continued to marvel at the streaks of blood on the concrete and the messy break of the bone. I pondered how strange it was that Ryan could still talk to me, while having a part of his body exposed. I wondered what other parts of the body worked that way. What other ways could we be broken and still function as conscious, intelligent beings? “Andy!” I snapped out of it. “Okay Ryan, I’ll be right back.”