Hospital Stories (all my hospital stories are composites of experiences I've had, not true stories about any real patients)
It was my last patient of the day, and I kind of knew what I was getting into because the surgery was Repair of Bilateral Lacerations to the Wrist. I hardly had time to think about it, having been running around most of the day doing two other surgeries. But when the time came, and I was walking down the hall towards the patient's room, I tried to center myself and be available to whatever I was to find.
I found Mr. B in a crowded room with three other patients, laying on his bed, the soft glow of the cloudy afternoon flowing in from the window. There were curtains drawn around three sides of him, in an attempt to give him, and the other residents of the room, some privacy. He appeared lucid and calm as I introduced myself. A little younger than me, 39 years old medium build, brown curly hair, and pale skin. Big, dark, unsmiling eyes. He answered my questions and seemed to go out of his way to be polite. What do you say to someone who just tried to kill himself? I took my time and sat on the windowsill, trying to allow a space for anything he might want to say. But he only told me that constant migraines contributed to him feeling "this way".
As I rolled him in his bed down the long hallway to the OR I asked about his family, if anyone was here with him. He said he has a brother and a sister in law in Santa Rosa. "They just had a baby girl. They're really happy." Do they know you're here? "Yes" was all he said. I never learned anything else about him.
When he was asleep in the operating room I started cutting off the loose dressings on his left wrist. I don't know what I expected (guess I had a movie mentality about what it would look like), but he had cut himself so deeply that I could see the tendon in his wrist, and the blood vessels. It wasn't just one cut, it looked like he had hacked away with a small axe. As the surgeon came over to take a look blood started pulsing out of the severed artery, the hand flopping back, the wound gaping. We put a tourniquet on the upper arm, but didn't inflate it, and I began to prep the hand, wrist, and arm with a betadine scrub. Behind me I could hear the surgeon saying "they always try to slit their wrists". Who is they, I wondered, but it was difficult to hold the hand while cleaning the rest of the arm, and I stayed focused on what I was doing. I felt like I could accidentally pull the hand right off from the wrist, the cut was so deep. The blood continued to seep.
It was change of shift and a new scrub tech came into the room. "Is this what I think it is?" he said. And I told him "Yeah. He's right handed so he started by cutting the left wrist first. It was so fucked up that he couldn't cut the right wrist as deep." I looked up and it seemed like everyone was staring at me for a moment. I guess because I rarely swear.
As I held the left arm, waiting to hand it over to the sterile surgeon, the anesthesiologist picked up the right arm and flung it around like a puppet. In a high, singsongy voice, with the hand flopping up and down exposing the gaping wrist wound like an opening and closing mouth, he said "Life sucks. I just want to off myself.".
I was glad when it was time for me to leave.
(all my hospital stories are composites of experiences I've had, not true stories about any real patients)