I have had several cases where someone on the team encounters a friend or coworker as patient or family, in trauma and on the floor where staff knows other staff. One that stuck out early on was a suicide attempt by the husband of a staffer. Everyone started forgetting their roles in ER trying to care for the staffer. It was a rough ride all around. This week it was my turn to have this experience directly. A trauma where the patient was in a motor vehicle accident with his granddaughter. I know them, not just casually, but well. We have socialized together for years. The kids have vacationed together. Here is the 80-ish grandfather, crying over the accident as he lays on the backboard wearing the immoblizer. He can’t reach his eyes. “Can you help me wipe these tears? …Tell me she’s OK.” I want to tell him what he needs to hear, not the truth. The granddaughter will be fine, but she has gone to Fast Care. He wants to see her now. I tell him it will be awhile before she can come in. How I felt when I saw the name- took my breath away- suddenly I am torn between rushing to the consult room, and the trauma bay, between the 13 yr old who is one of my daughter’s best friends and the patient who I have known and laughed with for years. Frustration of the son in law who was out for dinner with his wife in Philadelphia – Should grandpa be driving still? This is his only daughter by this marriage. Fears of the daughter who is a nurse. Family friends are here with her- he is a former CPE supervisor. Family wants to talk about knowing me as a lawyer. They did not know I am here. But also how glad they are that I am the one they meet here. I am glad to be the one here. Do I shortchange others in need? I see my own family in my mind- imagine their reactions- have to chase it away. When I hugged her- that was what was hard- don’t cry. I think of my own father and my concerns when he is driving my daughters. My own father could be the impatient driver here. The man without hearing aids in.. And the words of the grandfather- “how can I ever repay you?” I told him a smile would be enough. And it was.
Another family is dealing with a closed head injury patient. He and his girlfriend were in a car she was driving. They were arguing. He had consumed some alcohol. He impulsively decided to exit the moving car. Here we are. She is by his side with silent tears streaming down her cheeks. His father is here from Puerto Rico, praying to Virgin of Guadalupe. I ask him about the medallion around his neck and we talk about his piety and practices. I tell them about Mass times and offer a rosary. The girlfriend and he had planned to marry, once she finished confirmation and got her first marriage annulled. She tells me that she know this will be a long healing process for him, but also for all of them. I think the biggest part of “us” is for her. The guilt, wishing time could be turned back. We pray and I visit a couple days in a row through the crucial time. And she starts to talk about him more. One day he is restrained with leather restraints- he has broken through the others. She tells me he has always been strong, and they have had their problems. I wonder if this has been physical, but do not ask. “There are things I can only share with the priest who knows us, who knew us before.” I encourage this. I feel honored when on a day when he is cycling to awareness, she introduces me to him and tells him I have been here every day to see him and pray for him. Having had a good friend recover from a closed head injury and seeing her two year struggle, I try to encourage caring for self and not being afraid to rely on friends to help her through. She knows this will be hard- “ I have been the strong one- the one in control- I have held this together.” How hard to know that all her effort has not been enough. She cannot will or love it into being. And how hard will it be to walk this journey- how many problems will be swept under the rug that led to the jumping out.
A Muslim family with a tragic birthing experience. The mother/wife is critical. The extended family is here. Originally from Pakistan, some speak English and some do not. The husband stands by the bedside, wrapped in a blanket, bowing and praying and crying. We meet. I ask about his wife, and about his son. We talk about how he has held his son, and his name. I later learn that I am the first to ask the baby’s name. After awhile, he turns and asks me “will you please pray for me, for her?” I ask if he would like to pray together now. Tears streaming, he says he would. I am humbled and honored, given that I am a Christian woman, not dressed in the proper way, but all of this is transcended in this moment. I think carefully about the prayer, and offer it slowly, a prayer which I can pray but which respects their faith. God as creator, God as being gracious, holding us in the palm of his hand, God as healer, and bringer of peace, with pauses for silences. I realize he is also praying in his native tongue, in Urdu, in the silences. We are truly praying together. I ask if he would like a Qur’an to help him in this time. He says he would and I obtain one along with a prayer rug and set aside a place for him to pray.
"Can you wipe away these tears?" is a universal desire, hope and plea. What we all yearn for across time, space, definitions. To play some small role in this grand task is humbling and profound.