Following is an article I wrote several years ago and just revised slightly. I hope you enjoy this story.
Small town medicine is personal. A winter evening splashing and playing with my children at the Friday night YMCA open swim in about 1986 found me using my CPR skills on a 12 year old boy who nearly drown. The frantic shouts of a 17 year old lifeguard pulled my attention away from my children as he hauled the limp body of a young swimmer from the deep part of the pool. In the ensuing chaos, the pool was cleared and I ran to the victim and his rescuer, identifying myself as a doctor. The stark fear and anxiety on the face of the young lifeguard, who couldn’t have been more than 16 years old, eased somewhat as he realized he had done his job and would not have to revive the child. I checked. The lifeless-appearing youngster had a pulse but he was not breathing. I started mouth-to-mouth, thankful for his youth and the light breaths it took to ventilate him. He started to cough and sputter after about 45 seconds. Another minute and he opened his eyes and started to struggle. By the time the ambulance crew arrived, he was dazed, but sitting. I rejoiced that his twelve short years were not his last. He recovered completely.
At church about a week later, a very shy young man said a weak ‘thank you’ and handed me a card as he stood close to his mother. His mother was a single mom who had two sons thankful her youngest son lived through his brush with death. I lost touch after a few years, but that winter evening will be one I’ll not forget.
About four years later, while jogging at the same YMCA, a staff member caught my attention as I rounded near the door.
“A man collapsed in the hall downstairs. A nurse has started CPR. Could you help?” he asked urgently.
I ran down the stairs three at a time (I could do that back then). A large elderly man lay on the hallway floor surrounded by a small crowd. He probably weighed 250lbs with a barrel chest and the type of clothing you would see on a retired farmer from our area. As I moved closer, I could see blood on his face and blood splatter marks on the floor, a result of his hitting the floor. A nurse from the hospital where I worked pumped up and down on his chest, counting “One, two, three, four…” The 911 call went out, but no ambulance crew came for at least 20 minutes. We switched from ventilating to chest compressions and back again as our fatigue increased. Occasionally, we felt for a pulse, but found none. His chest showed a scar from prior open heart surgery. Through her tears, his frail wife told us of his previous two heart bypass operations. By the time the paramedics arrived, we were exhausted. The paramedics were able to start a line, administer medicines and defibrillate him with some success. He left the YMCA with a pulse, but still unconscious. Sweat soaked our clothes as we both caught our breath. I prayed he would survive.
Later, I learned that he lived through the night, but died the next day. His wife sent a thank-you for our efforts.
Medicine takes its toll on medical professionals, none more than doctors and nurses. Although I rarely encounter the dramatic, outside-the-hospital, life-saving resuscitations, I tell these stories to illustrate the emotional roller coaster of medical care; from joyous birth to tragic stillborn, from successful surgery to unexpected cancer, from medical cure to medical mystery and from dramatic interventions to mundane office work. Burnout, job dissatisfaction, alcohol and drug use, divorce, suicide are all risks of this profession. Most doctors just separate themselves from the emotional aspects of medicine and develop a detached aloofness in order to survive.
I’m blessed to find medical practice a job I love and am thankful God called me to medicine. But I am not immune. Sometimes I think of how much more thankful I will be when the roller coaster stops at the gates of glory.