It’s after hours. I’m doing one of those famed fifteen hour shifts where you don’t sit down. The cardiology fellow is on the phone telling me he’s sending someone up from the cath lab, they’ve just had emergency intervention for their massive heart attack. ‘We couldn’t get access,” he’s telling me, with that calm sense of urgency, “and that femoral sheath can’t stay in – can you have a go when he hits the ward? Otherwise call anaesthetics to do it”.
I tell him I’ll have a go, and wander up. Something about the impossible lights my fire, it doesn’t matter if I can’t do it. I wander into the patients room, his family are all there, I ask them if they wouldn’t mind stepping out. I happily go about setting up, cheerfully miss my first attempt, tell him I’ll have one more go then I’ll get the anaesthetist…and then I notice the tears streaming down his cheeks.
“I don’t know what happened”, he’s saying, “one minute I was mowing the lawn…”
He stops and looks at me. “I nearly died didn’t I?”
I nod, pull up a chair, and hand him a tissue.
“You’re here now” I tell him, “that’s all that matters really”.
“Life is so short”, more tears stream down his cheek “so short”
We talk. I could almost see his whole world changing before his eyes. Everything he held true evaporating. I repeat that all that matters is that he is here, and that he gets to keep going. I tell his family to come back in. More tears. The cardiology nurse comes in and tells him that his kind of heart attack is known as the widowmaker (yes, we really do refer to it like that!) His family looked stunned, they don’t know what to say. After all, it was like any other day – Dad was just mowing the lawn.
The guy has lots of risk factors. A little bit overweight, drinks on the weekends, smokes a bit, all seemingly benign enough, all completely insidious. I don’t need to point this out. He’s already talking about never smoking again. Watching people come to realise that how their body works is so much more important than how it looks is one of the best parts of my job. No one ever really listens to their doctor. I can tell people how to live and they’ll smoke, drink, and eat too much fat. You have to realise what’s bad for you for yourself.
I get the line into his foot. Less than ideal but it’s a big one and I know the cardiology fellow will be happy. And I know this guy will live. Watching people get to live is the best.