You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, “I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.” — Eleanor Roosevelt
I remember vividly the first patient I ever lost. Curled on her side, face turned away from us and she lay on the wooden floor at the base of the stairs, it was impossible to tell her age. In the back of my head I could hear my EMT Capt. reminding me that EMTs, “Do not run. We walk. We walk briskly. But we do not run into a scene.” Our walk down the hall rapidly evolved into a half-run as we called to her, not knowing her name but shouting over and over, ” Miss? Miss? Can you hear us?”
When we finally arrived at this lady’s prone body it was still impossible to tell her age. Pulse, airway, breathing. Nothing, nothing, nothing. It’s strange to skip over all the things that your hands, your brain, and your heart want to do – like look in someone’s eyes and run your hands over their skin checking for wounds – but you skip over all that because wounds don’t matter so much when someone’s heart isn’t beating. So we fit her with electrode pads and artificial airway. My partner gets an IV line going into the biggest vein he can find, and we run through the motions that represent the best that modern science has to offer in terms of bringing someone back to life. Some of those motions involve removing the clothing from the patient so you can make sure that they don’t have in life-threatening injury. In doing so, I noticed a very strange pattern of bruising on this lady’s lower body, particularly from the knees down.
13 years and hundreds of patients later, I still remember her name, and her son’s name. I remember how her husband arrived at the hospital and went through all five stages of grief – denial, bargaining, anger, depression, acceptance – in about five minutes. After muttering to his wife’s body, “Okay, honey. I’m going to go get our son from school,” he left the room. It occurred to me then that this lady’s son might be the next person to see her body. I was doing my best to clean her up as two nurses straightened the room, talking amongst themselves as they did so. “He totally did it,” one said to the other. “Definitely,” said the second nurse, “but nothing will come of it. She’s too bruised and battered up from drinking. No one will ever know that it wasn’t the fall that killed her.”
I tried not to sigh as I took out the patient’s breathing tube. Her son was eight years old. He would be here soon. “Does anyone know where I can find a pillow?” I asked, more to the room than to anyone in particular.
No matter who the author of that lady’s death was – herself, her partner, or simply gravity – the fact that she passed in her mid-30s, leaving behind a young child, was, and remains, deeply in unnerving. At the time, the only thing I could do was to put a pillow under her head, so that her son might believe that his mother had died peacefully in some comfort. Sometimes that’s all we can do. And sometimes, we can do a whole lot more than that.
No matter who the author was of our current political circumstances here in the United States, I find
myself far less interested in assigning responsibility for what has happened than I am and assigning responsibility for what happens next. I assign that responsibility to myself. And I sign it to you. The details of how we handle our newfound responsibility will vary depending on who we are, what we believe, and what were capable of doing in terms of time, money, and action. All persons, irrespective of age, class, ethnicity, gender, religion, and party affiliation are in desperate need of a country that provides them with the following:
- A flourishing ecology capable of supporting and sustaining life
- Outstanding healthcare
- Fantastic education for themselves and their children
- Accurate knowledge of current events, traditionally provided by excellent investigative journalism
- Dependable infrastructure
- Personal security and respect as an equal under rule of law
- Social support when we are children, as we age, and when we fall on hard times
There is no one living who does not need these things. I call upon you to demand these rights for yourself and for your fellow humans. If you need a place to begin, you can start by demanding that your elected representatives represent you – whoever you are, whatever you believe. Each of your senators and congresspeople have a name and a phone number. When you dial that number another person with a name answers it. Speak to that person politely and sincerely. Request that they pass your demands onto your representative. You can list them, as I did above, or you can state one at a time. Today, it’s healthcare. Tomorrow, it’s education. The day after, it’s the ecology or your personal security or whatever is most important to you.
Such a call will only take you a few minutes a day. It’s small, and it’s it’s the thing you can do, even if you feel as though you can do nothing else. Of course, I wouldn’t ask you to do this without doing this myself. My calls began yesterday. I called both my Senators and my state representative in their Washington offices with a single request. The responses were as follows:
- No answer at the office of my representative in the legislature, Lacy Clay. I left a message.
- The phone rep at the office of Claire McCaskill replied, “Sen. McCaskill will very likely be taking action on that. Thank you so much for your call.”
- The phone rep at the office of Sen. Roy Blunt said, “The senator has no power to affect that.”
To the last phone rep, I replied that while the Senate does not have the power to do or prevent certain actions, the party to which the senator belongs collectively has the power to do and prevent many things. I asked her to please let the Senator know that as my representative I wanted him to understand how important this particular issue was, and to do everything in his power about it.
The phone rep reiterated that the senator does not have the power to affect that issue. I thanked her, and replied that, regardless, I wanted him to know that his constituent hoped he would do everything possible to work on it.
I get the sense that this is going to be a very long conversation. Regardless, it’s going to be a daily one. I need – we need – those seven things listed above and much more. I have to demand that we get them. We have to demand that we get them. It’s not necessarily all that we can do. It’s simply where we begin.