He Wasn’t Supposed to Die
While I was documenting an argument I had with a drunk lady in one room, I noticed the Charge Nurse running. He never runs. Curious, I followed him into one of the Resuscitation Rooms.
CPR-in-progress. EMS had just brought him in. He looked young. Well, young for a person to be in cardiac arrest, anyway. He looked clean. New clothes. He didn’t look like he abused drugs, didn’t have signs of heart surgery. No evidence of trauma.
EMS reported that he was at work and just….collapsed. A co-worker saw him fall to the ground and started CPR immediately. EMS came quickly and administered advanced cardiac medications and continued CPR. He had no pulse. No breathing.
When he got to the ER, we continued the process of chest compressions and medications for another thirty or so minutes. Everything was by the book. If you Google “ACLS Algorithm,” we could check off every box exactly.
He did not regain a pulse and his time of death was called.
We turned the machines off. It was quiet. Not because anyone was emotional or sad; we didn’t know this guy personally, so there was no personal attachment. There wasn’t family around, so nobody was sobbing.
But it was quiet.
And it felt wrong.
Wrong because he wasn’t “supposed” to die. Not that anyone SHOULD die, but if someone gets shot in the head or overdoses on heroin, their death is not medically shocking. It’s expected.
But this was not.
As we removed his clothes to process the body, we pulled off his brand new pair of shoes. He had colorful socks with cool designs. He had brand new pants. This guy got dressed today and did not have any way of knowing that it would be the last pair of clothes he would wear.
I imagined him thinking about the upcoming day while he got dressed that morning. Planning what he might eat for lunch. Playing music on the way to work. Dreaming about coming home to his wife at the end of the day, maybe. Who knows.
But I am certain that he didn’t think that it would be his last day alive.
And so, I felt sadness. Cleaning up the empty medication boxes and plastic wrappers on the floor, preparing for his wife to come see his lifeless body. She had arrived and was waiting in the lobby. Someone from work had probably called her and told her to rush to the ER. Told her that they did CPR on him. She’s probably seen enough TV to know what that looks like. She probably knew deep down that he was dead. But she hadn’t been told officially. Sitting there, wondering, but not knowing. Holding on to hope that maybe we brought him back.
But she would soon know that we didn’t. We couldn’t. We did everything we should have done. But his body didn’t respond. He had every chance to survive, but yet, he did not.
Death is not new to me. People die a lot in the ER.
But death like this is not routine. He wasn’t supposed to die.
Publication of this story was significantly delayed to protect the patient’s privacy. Identifying this specific patient is impossible.
David I. Mancini is a Registered Nurse and a Licensed Paramedic. He’s a tech enthusiast, world traveler, and an eclectic eater. https://davidmancini.xyz