Friday, May 15, 2009

Thumb-wrestling with death

Mrs. Mayer was big, flushed and sweaty in a red mumu stained with vomit. She was having the big one.

She asked God to watch over her family and closed her eyes. The monitors screamed as she lost her pulse. Her heart rate idled down. Her heart was failing. She had made her peace.

I limped over to her stretcher and ground my knuckle into her breastbone. Hard. Her eyes popped open in pain and I gave her the eye.

"You're not going into the light yet!" I shouted at her.

Yes, I actually said it.

I threw the kitchen sink of medications at her and called in the specialist. An hour later, the cardiologist sucked a clot out of her coronary artery and she survived.

A few days later, it was a little tyke breathing like a hummingbird until his lips were blue. He had the million mile stare like he was giving up. I hit him with intravenous steroids, adrenaline and antibiotics until he pinked up and screamed his fury at me. Before that, the diabetic coma in septic shock. And so on.

That was last week. Now I'm typing away in a little cafe in Budapest, drinking an espresso with Bacardi and ice cream...

...wondering if I'll ever be able to give up the life I've left behind. I've been a teaching doc so long, giving residents the glory of the save, that I'd forgotten what it was like to thumb-wrestle with death.

Can I give it up? Am I a living stereotype, addicted to the rush?

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