Flashing Images

Dr. Laura Miller

Emergency medicine physician

Images flash through my memory, distracting me from the blacktop of the road. I remind myself to be in the moment, to focus on the moment. The fatigue allows emotion to pull at me, pulling me away from the present. 

The wrinkled, cold skin of her hand held my purple gloved one. Her strength was sapping away. The light was leaving her eyes. I felt a deep knowing in my bones of the inevitable. I can still hear her daughter’s sobbing grief and see her body hunch in anguish. Empathy erupted deep in my being, a wrenching sensation in my stomach. A hopeless feeling drifted onto my shoulders, and I fervently brushed it away. I intensified my efforts in understanding my patient’s family’s needs to support their healing process. I tried to soothe her and her family. I tried to make it easier.

The cars whiz by as I flip my turn signal on hearing the click click click reverberate in my mind. 

Beep beep beep. His monitor kept beeping as he struggled to breathe. He thought he was well enough to go home, but he didn’t have the oxygen capacity to make it to the bathroom. It took so much effort to convince him he wouldn’t survive without enough oxygen. I remember sitting down beside his bed risking contamination with my blue plastic gown flapping around me, my protection. I met his gaze through my goggles and tried to express my concern with my eyebrows, the rest of my face masked. Denial. Denial. Lost in denial. 

I shake my head back and forth slowly as I watch a blue truck mosey by my car window. All clear and I make a left turn. 

All clear and the paddles shocked him. There’s nothing left. No heart tones. No respiratory effort. No signs of neurologic function. Nothing left. Nothing left to save. No chance. 

A sense of emptiness overwhelms me. A tired tear slides down my cheek, unwilling, as I drive on the familiar street home. Automatic. An automation. 

Preparing to go into contagion-ridden rooms had become automatic. I found myself not thinking as I plugged in the code to the cart containing protective gear. I closed the cart, pulled the familiar plastic over my head and tied a neat little bow at my waist. 

The neatly mowed lawns I pass on the way home are free of dandelions except for that one neighbor whom I never see. I wonder who he is. Is he like that lonely, elderly gentleman in denial of his condition? Is he pushing for independence yet his body unyielding and unwilling? I struggle to focus on the road in front of me. 

She found freedom when she took her last masked breath. 

The exhaustion hits me, and I can barely keep my eyes open as I pull into my driveway. I realize my dandelions are showing their faces as I push open my car door and step onto the concrete surface of my driveway. There is so much to do. The fatigue overwhelms me. In the moment. Stay in the moment. You’re almost home.

Author Bio

Dr. Laura Miller is an emergency medicine physician who also has a degree in English and enjoys the artistry of the English language. She has eclectic interests including teaching yoga, cultivating plants, exploring cultures and reveling in nature. The art of medicine has always fascinated her, and she finds a sense of fulfillment helping others through her work in emergency medicine.

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