Mullberry Whine

poured out before bed

At A Loss

…Adapted from A Hopeless Dawn, 1888, Frank Bamley

“You’re waking up, Ms. Jones.  You’re waking up from surgery.  Can you squeeze my hand, Ms. Jones?”

The big blue anesthesia resident hovers over her pale face, shaking her hand.  Ms. Jones moans and gurgles through her trach tube, rolling her big grey eyes this way and that.

“We’ll get that tube out of you now, OK?” says the resident.  “Squeeze my hand, OK, sweetheart?”

He pats her shoulder and repeats his command patiently until she is focused on him.  Her fingers press into his weakly, nearly imperceptibly and suddenly her eyes are more sclera than iris as he removes the trach with a small flourish.  She chokes out a stunned scream as he suctions fluid from her throat, a single tear tracing her contorted face.

She is trembling, whimpering as we remove the remaining drapes and I reach out to stroke her hand only to realize my glove is covered in dried blood, a mottled maroon where there was once sterile green.  Once all the operative materials have been removed, I strip my gear and replace my gloves, take her hand and rub it with my thumb.  She stares up at me searchingly.

I don’t know what to say to this woman, whose deepest secrets I have clearly seen, whose emergent C-section revealed progressive malignancy throughout the abdominal cavity, whose staunch warm hemorrhage soaked my scrubs and required nearly 10 units of packed red blood cells to replace, and whose preterm newborn – a little boy, a precious gift tied with a tightly wrapped cord – has just been pronounced dead.

“You’re OK,” Ms. Jones, I lie.  “You are doing just fine.”  She squeezes my hand as if in disbelief.  I feel glad that I am not the one charged with revealing all the bad news to be given.

As we move her limp body to a PACU bed she coughs, and the tips of three maxillary incisors spill out onto the sheets, her grimace revealing the bloody stubs remaining.  She begins to wail as if she already knows her losses are much greater than these cosmetic holes. Once we’ve moved the bed to recovery just beneath a giant digital clock reading a red 0416, I scurry to the staff restroom where I desperately attempt to shore up the composure that began to seriously tilt two lost patients before.


– Step 2 CK Throw BackFrom Obstetrics

8 comments on “At A Loss

  1. on thehomefrontandbeyond
    October 14, 2012

    I could never be a doctor — I am so glad that you are becoming one –we need people like you

    • mullberrywhine
      October 17, 2012

      I wish I could say I had the fortitude to do high risk OB/GYN. Alas, I do not. But God bless (and God help) those that do!

  2. kindredspirit23
    October 14, 2012

    Whether or not you know it, you do good there.
    If I was on the bed after surgery, I would like it to be you there feeling some of the pain and trying to help me.

    • mullberrywhine
      October 17, 2012

      There is a point in your medical education – and for some it comes sooner than for others – when you realize you have little control over some outcomes; but you have every control over how you handle them and yourself when that final effort has been made.

  3. All that makes you...
    October 14, 2012

    I’m sorry. These rotations change you forever. I remember when I had my twins there was a baby in the NICU and the mother had bled out and it was hours before we knew she would live. i sat holding one of my babies and watching this baby be cared for by the nurses. Ironically i was given a polaroid camera and i knew that meant they were doubtful my babies would survive. i used the camera to take pictures of this mothers baby she hadn’t seen yet and sent the pictures to the mothers room in the ICU. I wrote about our experience a couple of days ago. I love telling the story of how things can take a change for the better at times also. That even when statistics tell you to be prepared you may just be surprised to find yourself happy.
    Thank you for sharing and caring for her.

    • mullberrywhine
      October 17, 2012

      What a wonderful story! I wish I had more like that to tell – my month on high-risk OB here in Radcity – where the infant mortality rate is rather like a skyscraper – was less than miraculous… But I do find a lot of catharsis in sharing those (HIPAA censored) stories. Thanks so much for sharing yours – I’m a big fan of happy endings!

      • mullberrywhine
        October 17, 2012

        Oh and you’re right. After that month, I will never look at polaroid cameras the same way again…

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From the Cellar

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House Rules

Creative Commons License
Nothing under the table.
The views expressed on "Mullberry Whine" are NOT intended to diagnose or treat disease.
The med-ed related stories described here are based on real events. Details have been changed in accordance with HIPAA de-identification guidelines to protect confidentiality.
Mullberry Whine can be enjoyed daily; there is no unsafe quantity. Real wine, though, should be enjoyed in moderation. At-Risk Drinking for males under 65 is defined as >14 alcoholic beverages per week or >4/day, with >7 drinks a week or >3/day being the cut-off for females under 65 and for anyone, male or female, who has graced this planet for 65 years for more. Drink Mullberry Whine like there are no consequences. But drink alcohol responsibly. Your friends, your family, your health-care provider, and your liver - heck, ALL of the organs in your body - will thank you.
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