By Laura McInnis – Class of 2017
The phone handset smashed down on the receiver and my attending turned to me and said, “Suspected stroke coming in, 71 year old female, 15 minutes.” I nodded and pretended like I had any idea what to do. Later, the paramedics wheeled in a lady with soft brown hair and a confused expression in her warm brown eyes. The paramedic’s voice was direct, and carried no emotion as he read out her vitals and history, telling an innocuous story of sewing with a friend, when she suddenly couldn’t talk or feel one side of her body. Now the only response she managed to make was garbled speech. I felt frustrated on her behalf because it seemed as if she was trying to get the right words out, but they were buried within her body, unable to break the surface.
A nurse asked me to help with an EKG. I fumbled as I attempted to recall where to place the stickers, and grew disappointed in myself as I was continually corrected on this meagre task. The machine spit out the reading, a mixture of lines and curves spelling this woman’s cardiac status. I opened one of her eyes to check her pupil, and it was so large it appeared to be swallowing the area of her iris. Even with my inexperience I knew this was wrong, so I asked the attending to verify. He repeated my test and then stated, “When is she going to CT?”
Two nurses, a stroke fellow, and I wheeled her down an eerily empty hallway to the scan room. It was dark, the only light emanating from the computer monitor behind the safety screen. I went to the patient’s bedside along with the nurses to move her to the solid backboard. We completed this task in one coordinated motion that reassured me of the team’s competence. I carefully arranged her arms by her sides, hyper-aware of her fragile state and almost afraid of causing harm by touching her.
I felt uneasy as I waited with the fellow for the scan to appear on the monitor. Piece by piece, a story evolved. Suddenly, a white spot appeared on the grainy image and continued to grow, angrily interrupting its gray surroundings. A soft song was playing from the technician’s phone, an odd juxtaposition of sound next to the harsh, mechanical noise of the machine. Breaking the stillness, the fellow remarked, “Well, it’s certainly worse than I thought.” I felt my optimistic attitude drain away. What had she left unsewn?
Later I walked by her room, glancing in furtively as I passed. Four people surrounded her bed, one of whom was openly weeping, her tears filling the void of emotion absent in the patient’s blank, unfocused eyes.