It’s 3 AM on a Tuesday night and despite being surrounded by patients, I am alone in the ICU. My mind drifts to memories from my childhood — to half-day Fridays and packed lunches, to weekend sleepovers and backyard football. I smile, recollecting the truths I was taught about the world: that love doesn’t die and that boys don’t cry, that good things happen to good people and that every story has a happy ending.
But the sound of a helicopter disrupts my thoughts, and a voice emerges on the intercom: “This is Medflight #3502, we have a 50 year old female in cardiogenic shock after a large anterior wall heart attack, ETA 15 minutes.” Adrenaline courses through my body, but I pretend to be calm. The older physicians never seem nervous. I quietly slip on my white coat, pocket my stethoscope, and page my resident for backup.
Within minutes, the automatic doors of the ICU swing open and a patient is rolled in on a stretcher by several emergency personnel. We meet them at the entrance and prepare to take responsibility for this woman’s life.
I first examine our patient. She is unconscious; a breathing tube emerges from her mouth and a machine ventilates her lungs. She looks Spanish, but I can’t be sure. She also looks relaxed — years from now, she will have no recollection of the day she almost died. I am glad the mind knows to turn off during the body’s most painful moments.
To her right is her husband. The first thing I notice are his tears, which now flow freely. He is being ushered away by our support staff, but he can’t bring himself to leave his wife’s side, likely a promise he made to her years ago when they first fell in love.
I stand across from the supervising nurse who has worked in this unit for 33 years. Her hands glide effortlessly across the patient’s body, starting IV’s and pushing medications. She has infused life into thousands of critically ill patients, many who will never recognize her face nor remember her name but will forever tell stories about the angels that saved them.
The cardiology fellow stands in the corner, intently watching the vital signs monitor. With each successive alarm, she yells out more commands, “we need access… I want levo hanging and epi in the room…the anterior wall is down, activate the cath lab…” But beneath the jargon and behind the white coat, her words mean something entirely different: “please don’t go…not today, not now.”
Finally, my attention turns inward. My scrubs are wrinkled and the shoes I wear every day are starting to break at the sole. I was always eager to grow up, but now I want nothing more than to be a child again — back when love didn’t die and men didn’t cry. When good things happened to good people, and when every story had a happy ending.