He came in crying, covered in blood. The limp form he held in his arms couldn't be real. My eyes, so used to special effects, so numbed by images on screens and in films, refused to accept the horror in front of me. Then I jolted, as if suddenly awakened, and grabbed a stretcher, upon which he laid his fallen angel, then stood staring at his blood stained hands, her scarlet shrouded body, as if he, now, was the one in a dream.
"Oh my God, help her! I shot her! I didn't mean to, the gun just went off!" He yelled and continued to wail, but she was now the focus of my attention as we rushed to the trauma room.
"Gunshot wound to the chest!" I shouted. "I need help in here!" Though we were not a true trauma center, being an inner city hospital we had seen more than our share of this sort of tragedy, but this was my first.
Both ER docs arrived in a flurry of bodies and equipment. Her clothes were cut off and discarded on the floor, oxygen applied, IV's established, a team now, working frantically to save this young woman.
"We need to open her chest!" I heard the words but seemingly frozen in place, I couldn't act. Another nurse stepped in with instruments I didn't even know we had, and I watched in awe as the doctor cut through flesh and muscle, spread ribs and sinew and exposed a heart, barely quivering, transformed in an instant of passion from living organ to worthless meat. The once beautiful being on the table now broken beyond repair, the shredded mass below us, robbed of form and function, no longer capable of life and love, utterly destroyed by metal and mass, propelled by energies and emotions I could not comprehend.
The team worked in vain, supporting breathing, infusing fluids, as the doctor worked to sew the fractured pieces back together, to squeeze and coax a spark of life from the misshapen orb in her chest, but she had already gone. As I looked to the corner of the room I glimpsed from the edge of my sight a shape, a shadow, a trick of light, but I knew it was her, the fallen angel, looking down at her once vibrant body, as if questioning why, and how, and to where do I go now?
We stood around, spent, looking at her and each other, nodding in silent ascent, as the doctor muttered "Time of death, 1045". So early in the day, but a moment marked in eternity's journal, and etched onto my soul.
I volunteered to bag the body, for that's all it was now, an empty container that once transported a living soul on its journey through life, and though I couldn't help save her, I could usher her off this realm with care and respect. As I washed the cooling flesh, the thickening blood, cut and tied IV lines, and covered the once beautiful form in a dead pale gown, I spoke soft words of sorrow and loss, and prayed aloud that the angels would guide her to God's loving embrace. I looked through tear filled eyes and could imagine her alive, smiling, laughing and loving. But as I closed the zipper over her frozen face, I choked back a sob and wondered, was she in a better place.
My duties performed, the room was ready for the next in an endless litany of lives shattered, interrupted, and lost. We worked to achieve the best outcomes possible, from the endless supply of storylines, tales told in pain, tears, broken bones and bodies, from the unbelievable to the unforgettable. Another shift like any other, and like every other, unlike any other. We worked as if we were unaffected by what we saw, denied what we felt, but how could we, how could I? As I continued to move from room to room, absorbed in my tasks it occurred to me, I was more than an observer, I played a part in every drama I touched. And these events, individual and real as life to each participant, were separate and contained in each private room, and I was the thread that linked them all to the microcosm of my reality. Anonymous patients in a waiting room chair, separate lives of no concern to each other, forever linked to my story, pages in a book only read by me.
At the end of my shift I left the ER behind me, sat in my car and prepared to drive home. But I was reminded of the fallen angel, of young lives shattered and lost, and from the depths of my soul came a scream, primal, cleansing, therapeutic. And I realized I could do this, be a part of all this, and still be me. But it would be a different me that arrived home tonight than left this morning, and a different me still tomorrow, as my story changed and shifted with each and every moment and experience, no matter how trivial or how profound. What would tomorrow bring? I eagerly turn the page...