“I did not attend the funeral, but I sent a letter saying I approved of it.” Mark Twain
My parenting partner’s Uncle died May 2012. I heard the news, without story, within one day. I felt calm and peaceful. I thought fondly of the lighthearted man who battled several health conditions. In some ways, despite his youth under 60 years, I was not surprised that his life was not destined to be longer. The next day I heard the details of the big event. Hearing the story about the attempt at resuscitating the Uncle after he was noted to have stopped breathing by his wife opened a large can of worms for me. I did not see it coming. If the story had been that he had died in his sleep, I would have nodded solemnly. But the truth was eight paramedics heaved his 300+ pound body down two short flights of stairs to the split level family room to give enough elbow room to do full CPR. I was instantly sobbing uncontrollably – in front of my kids. Not just for this Uncle but for all of the patients I have seen in my medical training that had died and a team of medical personnel would not accept this fact.
How did this get into the system? We are not allowed to die? If you do, we need to hop into action to alleviate our own guilt for your death? I cried for all of the beautiful souls whose earthly body had expired and I was involved in the futile attempt to act as God. It always seemed so disrespectful. The whole medical team would kind of wince as we performed the protocol on nonagenarians and the like who just happened to die in hospital. It was a requirement of us unless a “Do Not Resuscitate” (DNR) order had been made: required a talk with the family so logistics often got in the way. You know. Communication…that’s hard. So often the discussion of the DNR order created a drama within a family that was difficult to watch. Too many cooks in the kitchen, you know?
I really wanted to just screw the lid back on this issue in my history. I guessed that this had come up for me to deal with. Shortly after, I drove my son Jacques to ball hockey. I found myself going into my back pocket for the Forgiveness Prayer that a Facebook friend recently posted. I re-posted thinking I would not need this a whole lot as I had already forgiven so completely. Ha ha to that. It was for this Uncle…and for a specific patient that came to my mind from years ago.
I am sorry
I love you
Please forgive me (us)
I am sorry
I love you
Please forgive me (us)
I repeated this over and over in my head and the tears were streaming. Jacques was confused but did not seem too worried. I also realized that I have to write about this and I could almost see that open door of the airplane at 13,000 feet: memory from my tandem skydive experience March 2012. I was so scared at the thought of writing real memories that were not positive …and painful. **see note at end*** Now I was glad that I was connected to a world class Satsang teacher who had helped me to integrate the importance of looking at the shadows – and to be so very kind with myself. Be with it. These parts of ourselves are unique strands that create the rich fabric of who we are. I knew that I had to feel this. Then it would release in love. I would be free. I wanted to be free. I wonder how many other doctors out there feel as I do? Medical training to my mind was dehumanizing – for me. Perhaps it is better now? I have no idea as mine ended back in 1992.
As I was driving that May 2012 day, I recalled my stint in the CCU, Cardiac Care Unit, – a pretty intense place on the best of days for sure. There was one particular patient whose memory popped into my mind. It surprised me to see his face in my mind’s eye as I grieved the freshly deceased Uncle. The patient did not leave that unit alive and it was one of the most traumatic cases I had witness of. For me. The difference with this man was that he was under the age of 40 years. He was a diabetic which likely set him up for his premature heart attack. I do not remember all of the details but he was a rotund man, had red hair and was a very personable character. I enjoyed great personal interactions with him – and his wife. Despite the drama of these critical wards, there always felt to have been reasonable success in discharging patients back to the regular ward. The youth of this man definitely had us all feeling optimistic. The night of his death, I was the intern on call so would spend the night in the hospital. A specific room for sleeping was available if a lapse presented itself – usually did. Very rare to have no sleep- four hours common. He and his wife appeared very connected. She was reluctant to leave and it was getting later and later. I encouraged her to go home and get some sleep. She could come back tomorrow. She looked me in the eye and asked me to call her if his condition changed. I said that I would, thinking it could not change too fast could it? Yes, it could. I had never seen a staff man, full-fledged doctor in charge, kick into gear as fast as the Cardiologist that night had to. This lovely soul, our patient, crashed -in medical terms. Pandemonium. Emergency cardiac artery unblocking attempt via the vein. Balloon sent up to the heart etc. I find I have forgotten all of the terms. Thank God! Well, despite the most heroic of efforts, the patient was pronounced dead. I was left feeling greater respect for this particular Cardiologist’s skills that night. I had never seen such a valiant effort. As I think back there was fear in the doctor’s eyes for sure. The patient cannot be dead until we say he is dead. This is the time noted on the chart and the death certificate shortly thereafter. As we all come together in this combined disappointment and grief, I recalled my promise to his wife. My heart just cracked. I did not call her in my own trauma of the experience. I am sure all I was doing was standing there with my mouth open. I noted this to myself right away. I did not know what I could do about it. A nurse called her and she was soon on the ward to see her husband. I did not fear approaching her and wondered what I could say to express my feelings of regret and condolences to this woman. She sobbed as she repeated, “You said you would call me”, “You said you would call me”. I so very sincerely apologized to her – with apology accepted. It is not that her intention was to make me feel any worse than we all already did but somehow the fact that she had already forgiven me made her pain have all the more impact on me. Likely it was a blessing. I imagine it would have been very traumatic for her to see what was done to her husband’s body after his death. Operation revive was not for the fainthearted. As I reflect today on this, it reminds me of the fact that in our society, we are not setup to be prepared when bad things/sad things actually happen. I have thought this many times. I think of the legal system and how it holds so many people in fear should anything untoward happen. When will we all start taking responsibility for things that happen in our lives? As this beautiful spirit, the patient’s wife did. The New Age Spirituality leads us to believe that everything that happens to us matches our own energetic vibration. Everything happens for a reason? I do not have to understand it and I likely would be unable even if I might like to understand.
Freedom in not knowing – accepting this had happened outside of myself or anyone. As a team, we did not accept this unwanted experience – and we suffered as a result. Here I am writing and remembering over 20 years later.
I forgive myself….
Become a lover of what is and the war is over. Byron Katie
We do our best along the way.
Wrote May 12, 2012, One of my earliest stories.
June 5, 2014
I want to add that Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation, CPR, does have its place. Being Angèle, I have a great story about that.
I live in a very nice neighborhood of Edmonton. It is not for everyone, but it is one that Realtors keep lists of people wanting to get in. Two blocks away from a large natural park by the river is the biggest asset for me. Thirty year old neighborhood now. Seems many other professionals feel the same way I do. Being a Doctor myself, I notice a large number of Physicians in the ‘hood.
A neighbor, unknown to most of us at the time of the incident, was jogging past my house years ago. Apparently, he was noted to be lying face down across the street from my house. It was a Family Physician and her daughter who were first to see him as they drove past. The Doctor was married to an Emergency Physician. The Emerg. Doc, an acquaintance a couple of years ahead of me in medical school, later recounted the panic call he received from his daughter, “Man down! Man down! Dad, come right away!” What is a Dad to do? So he was the Doc taking charge in the resuscitation. Somehow I am oblivious to the scene transpiring in front of my house until my mother-in-law was dropping in and mentions the commotion. I went over and saw a Plastic Surgeon, couple of Family Docs and the Emergency Doc all gathered around. Leave it to the ER, Emergency Room, Doctor to take the appropriate action. What are the chances? That gentleman dropped in a very well-equipped neighborhood. I caught up with the ER guy not long thereafter. He followed up and confirmed that the gentleman survived his heart attack without significant incident. He was a resident of my very street and lives on. Happy ending…
June 17, 2014 P.S. – I laugh at the idea that I resisted writing this piece. When I read it recently, I wondered about just throwing it out. Kind of boring. Goes to show how repressed I started out. Interesting. We can only start at the beginning. Historical relevance. I have been busy. This one is short so quick to publish.