A nugget of Big Medicine for your consideration. #99 Time.
“Time is fleeting…madness takes its toll.. ahh.. but listen closely.. not for very much longer.. I’ve got to keep control.” – The Time Warp, Rocky Horror Picture Show.
EMS is all about time. We cannot control time but oh, how we try just as hard as we can to compress it, shorten it, and shrinkwrap the seconds, minutes and hours that make up a day.
We try to get trauma victims into surgical suites within The Golden Hour. We work on finding new ways to shave minutes off our response time. We train and retrain to eliminate mere seconds between compressions while performing CPR.
There’s a certain delicious irony about it all because while we’re trying to stuff time into a tiny box, our patients and their families want more of it. More time to live. More time together. Just one more minute, day, week, month. Another Thanksgiving, Christmas, Chanukah, New Year or Kwanza. One more family reunion, birthday party, or wedding celebration.
I rolled on a call in slow-motion for EMS – no lights and no sirens. Just a quiet drive on a sunny afternoon to an out-of-the-way street in the ‘burbs. The house was unremarkable – clean, well-kept with a collection of winter boots clustered just inside the front door.
The patient was in his fifties. He was a single dad of four twentysomethingyearold children. He was terminally ill with an aggressive form of cancer. He and his sons had rigged the livingroom with a plasma-screen TV mounted high on the wall and a hospital-style bed. His daughters were in charge of the routine cocktails of meds and painkillers.
The pain had become unbearable and he knew it was time to head into the hospital for palliative care. After assessing his vitals I pulled up a chair and we talked. The ambo was still a long way out and as it turned out it was more like 90 minutes before an ambulance crew pulled their rig up to the curb.
We talked about time. We were the same age – our birthdays were only a week apart. He told me about all the places he had taken the kids in the five years since his diagnosis. ‘We ran the travel bucketlist in fast forward for a while there,’ he said. ‘We went on a safari in Africa, we got to the Galapagos and we even made it to the National Rodeo Finals down in Vegas.’
I told him about going to the NRF with Norm and then being dropped off at the airport for the flight home – one of the more surreal transitions I’d ever made.
‘You know that song by Tim McGraw – Live Like You Were Dying – well that’s how we lived the past five years. You name the insane adventure and we’ve tried it. And all the while, I knew, that in the end – this day would come when I’d have to pull out that attache case over there.. Can you get it for me? That’s it – yeah, right there. It’s got all of my personal papers. It’s amazing how much more organized dying can make you.’ His voice trailed off.
‘You know what I’ll miss most in the next couple of weeks?’
‘No idea,’ said me.
‘I’ll miss being right here in this room at the heart of this old house listening to my boys and girls getting on with their lives even while taking care of their old man. I bought this house so we could all live together under one roof. We renovated the heck out of it. Refinished the floors. Repainted the walls. Best hardest work we’ve ever done.’
He paused for a sip of flat ginger-ale.
‘That’s what I’ll miss. The time together. Don’t waste a second of your time on bullshit and unnecessary drama. Because in the end, and I’m about there – it’s time you’ll crave and it’ll be time you don’t have.’
I said my byes when the ambulance crew arrived. I scanned the obituaries a week later and read that he had passed ‘peacefully, surrounded by his children.’
“Sky diving, I went rocky mountain climbing,
“I went two point seven seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu.
“And then I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter,
“And I watched an Eagle as it was flyin’.”
An’ he said: “Some day, I hope you get the chance,
“To live like you were dyin’.”