Monday, January 27, 2014



In the hospital, suffering from myocarditis, Dave accidentally pulled the heart pump out of his vein. This meant that he'd have to have a new heart pump inserted. Instead, while waiting to get the new pump, he crashed. That heart pump had been helping his terribly damaged heart keep plugging along and without it his vitals went downhill fast.

The doctors threw everyone else out of the room and I never saw Dave conscious again. From that room, he was transported by ambulance to a bigger hospital where they had better technology. I wasn't able to ride in the ambulance with him. He died in that ambulance.

CPR brought back his pulse, but he crashed again and they were not able to bring back a pulse that time. Since then, I have not been able to see an ambulance without having to catch my breath. It's not quite a full panic attack, but it is a fear response, for sure. It's not just the thought of the patient's suffering in that rig. It's also the idea of the family that has already or is about to learn that they might lose their person.

When their sirens and lights are on, it's even worse. I have to focus on breathing when they scream by. I'm only able to breathe a full breath again once they're gone.

Oddly, about a year after he died, I moved less than a block from an ER. I never thought twice about it. I didn't fear it. I didn't consider that I'd be confronted with more ambulances than ever. And it hasn't really been a problem. I've had less and less of a fear response when I see or hear them.

 The streetcar stop I take to get to campus is directly across from the ER doors, though. As I sit there, waiting for the train, I see ambulances come into the ER bay over and over as I wait. I see people being pulled out of them on stretchers. The other day I saw one young man's face clearly through the ambulance window. His face was covered in blood. I felt my heart constrict in pain for him and his people.

The effect of seeing this as a part of my day has been really interesting and completely unexpected, though. I've begun to have less of a fear response and more peace.

There's nothing peaceful about remembering the trauma of that day that Dave's life ended in an ambulance, without me. There's nothing peaceful in the reminder that at that moment, folks and their family members are suffering.

However, there is something weirdly comforting in the fact that death and the ensuing pain (though in this culture we like to pretend it isn't) is simply natural, expected and a part of life. It doesn't make it okay and I'm not saying it doesn't still terrify me.

I'm saying that I think sometimes we are so separate from the end of life that we forget how much a part of it we all are.

It's not something we might experience, it's something we will experience. It might happen in an out of order way, which makes things much more tragic and difficult to understand and grieve, but it will happen, regardless. We will leave behind loved ones. We will watch loved ones leave this earth. It is a part of our existence. Being confronted with it on a regular basis has helped me lose some of my horrific fear of the trauma of it. It's helped me lose some of the denial around the idea of it.

I'm not sure it was a coincidence that I moved so close to an ER. I think it was a part of my healing to end up in a place where I'd see the evidence of the truest truth of all.

We die. We leave this place. We go somewhere else. It's sometimes a peaceful exit. It's sometimes terrifying, painful, shocking. But it's what we do.

Why have we, as a society, gotten so good at pretending it's not coming? Why has it become such an uncomfortable topic? How much of our fear around our dying loved ones is based on our inexperience with the idea, with our "ignore it and it won't happen"mentality?

Not that there's any way to prepare for the actual grieving process, but I have been wondering more and more about why we're all in such great denial. Does it really serve us to pretend it won't happen to us and ours?

Is that a lesson that only those of us who've ushered a dear loved one out of this world can truly understand?

I sit on that bench watching those vehicles of fear (and of rescue) bringing hurting, scared people to the place where they might die. I think again and again about how incredibly fragile we are, how life is a miracle and how I'm lucky to have right now because it is truly all I ever have.

I think about the beauty inherent in pain and how pain has brought me clarity, peace and a completely different outlook on life. I never imagined I'd live a stone's throw from an ER, but I'm actually glad I do.


  1. I can relate to your post. My stomach is in knots when am ambulance appears. My husband had a pulmonary embolism that hit him at a grocery store; the police called me that he had no pluse and was not breathing on his own and they were taking him to the hospital. When my daughter and I got to the hospital, the doctor came walking toward us shaking her head "no"........even writing it here makes me feel sick. I picture his aloneness, and his ride to the hospital when I hear the sirens and imagine like you said, someone losing their person. It's almost three years and at least now I can drive by the hospital, and recently even visited a friend there, but I doubt I'll ever not react to the sirens or the hospital. Thanks for sharing.

  2. My husband just passed away in August. He was Aeromed from a small hospital to a bigger hospital. I watched as they loaded him on the helicopter, and watched as it rose into the sky a flew off. He never woke up after that ride. I didn't even realize I had issues with helicopters until one flew over our house about 2 months after it happened, and I burst into tears with no warning.

  3. I can relate too as well. My husband worked at home as a journalist and a few years ago, when a new Elementary School opened less than a mile from our home, we could tell that the Ambulance traffic increased when probably than a dozen or more a week would drive by our house.

    When my youngest daughter (then just 15) and I left for school/work on May 10, 2012, at 8:00 am, my husband was sitting on the couch, talking to his manager on the phone, he waved good-bye to us, and that was the last time we saw him alive.

    After visiting the doctor the day before because he didn't feel well but was told he was OK, my 52 year old husband fainted at home around 10:00 am while having a visit with our air conditioner repairman. The repairman called 911 and several neighbors helped the ambulance and paramedics transport him to the hospital.

    I dropped my daughter off at school that morning, went to work and then to a dentist appointment. I checked my phone during the dental appointment and saw I had many missed calls from neighbors and the air conditioner repairman, who then told me my husband was taken to the hospital. I called my husband's cell phone, he answered the phone, told me which room to meet him in at the hospital, and when I got there, I was told to wait for a few minutes in a little room to the side.

    Luckily I had called my parents who live in our same town and they met me at the ER at the hospital. A few minutes later a female doctor came to our room, said it wasn't good news, and told me needed to say goodbye. That's when a typical Thursday morning turned into the worst day of my life. My husband died of a Pulmonary Embolism at 12:24 pm.

    The sound of sirens on ambulances still bother me, but recently, for some reason, I thought of the ambulance coming to our home and the paramedics having to put him on the gurney and wheel it outside to a waiting ambulance in our driveway. I think that was when I cried the most because he loved our home so much and that was last time he was there.

    It's been over 21 months and his toothbrush is still in our bathroom and his unpacked suitcase from a trip to DC the week before, still sitting in the corner of our bedroom.

    1. Leslie, I feel your pain of an undetected PE. Such a silent killer. I too did not get to say goodbye and that bothers me alot. I hate that we were having a "normal" day with all that went with it, including a quick conversation just 15 minutes before; he called me to ask me if I needed anything on his way home; I asked him to stop for tangerines at the grocery store; his last act on earth was for me....he collapsed at the grocery store, where they did CPR, called 911 and then rushed him to the hospital. That day is still so real to me and yes, the worst day of my life. Take care of yourself.

    2. Mjay,

      I'm so sorry for the sudden loss of your husband to an undetected PE.

      I get sick to my stomach every time I think of it. For months, every time I closed my eyes I could see my husband of 25 years, just lying on that table in the ER, already gone.

      My therapist told that it takes about 3 months for your body to catch up with the rest of your when you have such a sudden and tragic loss because it's hard to handle it all at one time. She also told me a year later that I was "stuck". I began attending a Grief Share class and than seemed to help a little.

      I'll be thinking of you and hope you have a peaceful weekend.


  4. Ohhhhh honey, I have such an emotional relationship with ambulances. So complex that I cant even go into all of it here, it would take forever. Lets just say ambulances for me are a HUGE trigger for the trauma. I totally get this. I will go into it more in person next time I see you lol. When will that be?

    1. It would be SO great to catch up in person, kelley!
      Not sure when that will be though. MIGHT go to CWW again, depending on how I feel financially. You going to both?