A second chance
By Carla J Dow
Blood. Sticky, shiny, wet. Brazen red. I blink and the desperation rises in my chest. I cannot clear the bold scarlet puddle from my eyes, it proceeds like a relentless festering floodwater.
As an A&E doctor I am used to blood, this is a place where the fragility of life stares you in the face day on day, eyeball to unflinching eyeball, night on night. This is a place where you realise that the human being is no more than an encasement of flesh, bones and blood. No more.
But tonight is different.
The ECG machine bleeps piercingly behind me and the nurse moves to its side her blue scrubs rustling past my bare arm, tickling my skin.
Adrenaline is high as it always is in A&E. Tension bubbles near to boiling point.
“Intracranial pressure increasing.”
The nurse’s voice is smooth like a tumbling cloud of silk over the taut vibrations of anxiety.
My hand applies pressure on the wound, a defensive gesture in refusal of the confrontation highlighting the vulnerability of life. Warmth seeps through my fingers from the puckered flap of skin rimmed in ruby red. Brazen blood. I feel nothing so desensitised am I to the sight of trauma.
The frantic business of the A&E department continues around us, it is a place of cliff-hanging limbo forever balanced between life and death, this world and the next, the relief of escape tempting you.
“The patient is destabilising.”
The nurse’s soft voice raises a semi-tone. I hear it. Only the most attuned ear will have detected the slight tinge of reddened panic.
“More fluids,” she demands with authority.
The brazen scarlet blossoms, blooming crimson petals on the crisp white bedsheet like summer strawberries glowing against snowfall. Overwhelming. Suffocating. I know the drill, the routine. A tube is forced into the gargling throat to aid breathing. A needle is stabbed into bone to deliver a shot of adrenaline, the irony lost on us.
“He’s going into shock. Clear.”
My colleague presses the pads onto bare skin directly above the heart, the cold tingles before 1,500 volts of energy pulsates through the body.
I have seen many lives shaken into resurrection at the charged touch of the defibrillator, giving a second chance at life. Day on day, eyeball to unflinching eyeball, night on night. But I have also seen death refuse to relinquish to the gentle tendrils of reawakening. I know that death is unforgiving.
I watch and wait to see which way this one will go; this one matters more than the others. This is my second chance.
The brazen cloud returns, the ruby red petals blinding me to the frantic grasping of the doctors and nurses I have worked alongside day on day, eyeball to unflinching eyeball, night on night. They try their best to hold on to my life, a life that nevertheless slips from their desperate grasp. Another one down.