Friday, February 22, 2008

I think the word I'm looking for is awkward

Today one of my patients was doing well after her surgery and so her doctor wrote orders for her to be moved out of ICU to a telemetry floor where she would be monitored constantly for cardiac problems via wireless EKG. I went through the normal process of a transfer, faxing a written description of her status to her new floor, calling a verbal report to the receiving nurse, disconnecting the IV lines she didn't need anymore, getting her into a rolling chair for the trip, all that. I called the waiting room and asked that her family meet us in the hallway for the trip.

We chatted pleasantly as we rolled to the elevator. I got in first pulling the chair in after me backwards. This is so if there's an emergency, the patient is facing forward. The family filed in after us and we're off. Only we started going down, not up. Oh well, no big deal right? We'll just go down a floor or two and then right back up. At the second basement level, I heard and felt the back door opening. "Dang, please don't be what I think this is going to be."

A quick look back confirmed that yes, the back door was opening because a few undertakers were bringing a body out from the morgue. Oh joy. It was covered of course and dead people don't really bother me, but I was acutely aware that the family of a rather recently critically ill heart patient were staring right at the guys in dark suits and a body bag on a gurney. Thankfully the patient was facing the other way. We all avoided looking at each other and the undertakers stepped back to let the door close. But it wouldn't.

Sure it would start, but then it just popped back open as if to say, "Are you sure you don't want to get off? Really? I mean the morgue is right here." The nervous chuckles stopped after the third time. Finally, dinging and shaking, the door ker-rawled closed on the fifth attempt amid the clearing of throats and intense floor-staring. All I could think was, "I've got to say something. What's the right way to transition from a very real, non-metaphorical confrontation with death?" I went with a far-too-effusive description of her new, private hospital room.

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