I am nervous and I am excited. It is a crisp September evening and I am walking up the hill towards the hospital. My preceptor is a physician in the emergency department who works nights. In a city like Richmond that means I have seen several interesting patients, but tonight is the first night that my preceptor is working the trauma bay. They have just opened a brand new, high tech trauma bay. I wonder if I will see someone die tonight. This thought stops me in my tracks. I fervently hope I do not see that this evening. I wonder when I will, it is inevitable in my training, at least I think it is inevitable. Not tonight though, not tonight.
It is a busy night. When I walk in, the waiting room is so full patients are sitting on the floor. The hallways are filled with beds and patients. I walk briskly back to my preceptor’s station. She is kind and welcoming as always. As I sit next to her, a sorrowful, deep wail fills the hallways. Everyone turns towards the sound. It is coming from the family room. It is a woman, her sorrow is painful, it cuts me to the core. Her son coded before I came in, my preceptor informs me. I see the chaplain hurrying down the hall and entering the room. As the door swings open I can see the doctor in his blue scrubs sitting on the floor holding a woman whose sobs shake her entire being. The door closes softly. It strikes me suddenly. Did the man pass just as the thought that I might see someone die entered my head?
My preceptor startles me out of my thoughts. She points to the flashing red light on the ceiling. A trauma is coming in, a motor vehicle accident; both drivers are being brought it. I get my first look at the new trauma bay, everything was new, polished, fancy. The large room is curtained off into smaller rooms with large numbers painted on the walls. Room 3 has a man in it already. As I pass by, I can see his left leg is horribly mangled and bloody. Several people in different colored scrubs are standing around him, speaking fast and working fast. We move to another curtained room just as the EMTs arrive with the patients. All is movement, fast words, machines, colors, sounds. Everyone has a job to do, and they do it swiftly, adeptly. Clothes are cut off, IVs are started, X-rays are taken, medical terminology flies back and forth across the patient.
And then, they’re done. The scrubbed professionals have each done their job and now they go their separate ways. The patient is left, lying there, naked, covered only by a thin, white blanket, wide-eyed and staring at the ceiling. Just left there. I want to go stand next to him, I want to place my hand on his arm, and just let him know someone is still there. I take a step forward, but four scrubbed personnel turn quickly and yell at me not to cross the red line! The wide red line painted on the floor separates me and the patient and I can’t cross it. My preceptor tells me it is time to go, time to go write the patient note and see others. I take one last look at the man, alone and shivering, and walk out of the trauma bay.