Thursday, December 11, 2008

It was a couple of weeks before Christmas...

... several years ago. I don't even remember exactly how long ago - I know I wasn't quite the burned-out veteran I am today. Probably 10 years ago, at least. We got a call for somebody "stuck in a bathroom". We took our time getting out the door and laughed at the mental pictures this dispatch information conjured in our minds. A drunk? A child? Some vasovagal syncope while on the crapper? 

As we pulled up to the house, the middle-aged children met us at the door and explained that they were pretty sure their parents were stuck in the bathroom and unable to get out. They arrived at this conclusion because their elderly mother required total care from their elderly father - due to a prior stroke - and dad's car was in the garage. They could hear a garbled voice coming from the bathroom, probably mom. 

This quickly went from a laughable possibility to a very urgent rescue situation. Dan and the Fire Department arrived and began taking the trim off the door, as we were unable to push the door open. When they finally got the door apart, what we saw was one of the most heart-rending scenes that will ever be burned into my memory. 

While lovingly bathing his disabled wife, the elderly husband had apparently died suddenly. The wife, who had lost the use of her speech and one side of her body, could only crawl out of the bathtub (which was now ice-cold) and lie upon the body of her now-deceased husband and wait for help. His body was ice-cold as well. They must have been there for hours. Though her speech was unintelligible to even her children, you didn't need to know her to understand what her garbled keening meant. He was gone. Her love. Her caretaker. The one who bathed her and dressed her and put her in her wheelchair every day. The one who fathered their children. Grandpa. She lay upon his cold and mottled body on the floor, screaming in horror, grief, and fear. I wished at that moment that I could wipe her memory clean of the hours she spent in that bathroom, take away the realization that life as she knew it would never be the same from this moment forward. We had to pry her fingers off of her husband to get her out of there. She didn't want to leave him. 

She was severely hypothermic from being in the cold water for so long, then lying naked on her husband's cold body. So cold that she had actually stopped shivering, her heart rate was slow and her skin ashen. The rectal temperature they obtained at the ER was 94F. We rewarmed her as aggressively as we could, but I wonder if she could talk, if she'd have asked us to just let her go. Let her go with him. Don't save her to be in this world without him. 

I drive by that house often on my way home from work, and I think about that old couple every year around this time. Calls like this make me reflect on my own fears and my relationship. One of my greatest fears is that now that I have fallen and fallen hard for someone, the only thing that is sure in life is that I will lose him someday - or he will lose me. You read about perfectly healthy people who die within a week of losing their spouse; I think that is the greatest testimony to love that there is. I can appreciate that some would find that statement possibly morbid or cynical, but the ones that do aren't in healthcare

I frequently wonder what ultimately happened to that poor lady. I hope that she found peace, whatever peace meant to her. We all have a different definition of peace. 

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