I heard weeping. It was soft at first, as if trying to be kept at bay, but it suddenly grew in volume and intensity. It wasn’t the tears of a simple disappointment, like ruining your favorite pair of jeans with a bleach incident. No. It was guttural. It was the sound of pent-up grief spilling over.
It wasn’t an uncommon sound. Not in the ICU. Not for an ICU nurse of twenty years. Yet, despite the familiarity for myself, I still felt my eyes sting. Her cries. Oh my goodness, the pain underneath each whimper; it made my own heart break.
I knew what was transpiring. Even though I currently sat at my patient’s bedside, as I had for days, the poor woman too sick to be left without watchful eyes for more than a few minutes, I had been next door. One room over, but hundreds of miles apart in terms of prognosis. My lady was improving, slowly, but as I always say, slow and steady wins the race. Not so next door.
Fifteen minutes prior I had heard someone call out, “you got some atropine in there?”
I walked one ICU room over, perusing the bedside monitor as I entered. It was serious. Nothing on the screen was compatible with life. I began increasing the IV medications dripping into the patient’s veins, hoping to stave off the impending doom. All in vain, the EKG line went flat. The nurse at the bedside began compressing his sternum to keep the blood flowing, and I ripped open the crash cart to draw open the medications to try and bring him back to us.
In a flash the room filled with warriors, wearing scrubs and flying into action. One round, two rounds, three rounds.
“No pulse. Asystole. Resume compressions.”
With an entire room full of helpers, I had excused myself from the bedside. They had enough hands. Some nurses thrive on the adrenaline of a code blue, but I had seen so many through the years, far too many to count, that I was fine to sit this one out and allow the other professionals to drive.
They got him back, and I’d like to say it stayed that way, but it did not. His heart stopped again. The family stood in a huddle outside the room, holding each other. One young woman was in the floor, her grief too heavy for her legs to hold, and that was the source of the painful wails. A chaplain brought a chair. Someone else grabbed some tissues and water. These were the things we could do. We couldn’t save the loved one in the bed, anymore than we could take away the pain that released itself in heart-wrenching tears.
When I first heard the crying in the hall, after nearly weeping empathetically myself, it occurred to me how often these halls held the tears of grieving family. They cradled the disappointed spouse after hearing bad news. They steadied the angry son who couldn’t believe there was nothing more that could be done. Many times, thank God, these halls even expanded with the joyful laughter of miraculous recovery. If only these walls could talk!
They’d be shouting emergent orders from a physician, “get the RSI kit now!”
Or the muttering of an exhausted nurse, on the fourth day of a string of twelve hour shifts, “just an hour to go.”
There would definitely be a lot of questions.
“How did this happen?”
What do we do now?
What would momma have wanted?
And plenty of expressions of surprise, coupled with confusion and disbelief.
“But he was doing better. He just asked about the dog.”
“She’s only 28 years old! Parents aren’t supposed to outlive their children!”
“I never knew he was so depressed!”
There would be expressions of hope.
“Dad is a fighter. He’s gonna make it.”
And expressions of love through surrender.
“Mom wouldn’t want to live like this.”
There is so much these halls could say, if only they could utter words, but they’ve kept the secrets whispered within their walls under tight lip. I sometimes wonder, on days like today, if the walls stay silent simply because they don’t have words. Some of the deepest pain of loss is spoken through silent tears, agonizing cries, and even resigned sighs from the warriors who lost the last battle. Maybe the walls don’t talk because even mere words would be too difficult to express the emotions that course through its halls. Perhaps silence, a listening ear, and a space to lean on is the best these walls can do.