Copyright is held by the author.
IT WAS my first time — although nobody noticed.
When I first met Mr. Quinn (George, he had asked me to call him), he didn’t realize that I was a first-year medical student. He was a kind, elderly man and spoke to me as if I were a doctor and, unlike a lot of other patients, didn’t mind that I looked quite young.
He was lying in the trauma room after having been driven to the hospital by a fellow tenant of his building. He was in a bed between a young lady with a migraine who had come in for Demerol and a middle-aged man with abdominal pain. There was only one other person in the ER that quiet morning — a mentally handicapped man who had cut his hand badly with a utility knife and had become anxious at the sight of blood. He had been sedated and now slept fitfully at the other end of the room.
Occasionally a technician would come in with an x-ray machine and everyone except the patients would be asked to leave. I would stand out in the hall and watch for something interesting but it remained very quiet.
The man who had brought George to the hospital hadn’t even known his name. He had found George in the hallway sweating and having trouble catching his breath. Earlier that morning George had felt chest pains, possibly from the bigger than usual breakfast of eggs and sausages his wife had made him for breakfast. But the chest pains worried him so he went down the hall to a neighbour he knew suffered from angina and borrowed a nitroglycerin tablet — just in case.
But shortly afterwards he had collapsed in the dim hallway corridor against the door of the neighbour who had driven him to the hospital. The nice neighbour left after we told him that George would be OK. I spent the rest of the morning listening to George talk about his wife. She was currently on a plane to Vancouver to visit her sister so George would have to wait to tell her that he was in the hospital. He toyed with not telling her at all so that she wouldn’t worry. He had no other relatives or friends other than the man in the building with the nitroglycerine tablets and the kind man he had gotten to know on the ride to the hospital.
He sat up in bed and asked me if I would play cards with him. I was sure no one would mind. When the conversation lagged I would look over at the heart monitor, although secretly I wasn’t yet entirely sure what to look for.
He beat me at the first two games of crazy eights but I came back and won the next three. The nurse in the trauma room that morning told him they would probably keep him until later that afternoon and then would send him home. She asked who they should call to come and pick him up. He asked her to call a cab.
While the nurse was taking his blood pressure and temperature I went to get some lunch. I left him just as they were bringing in a tray of soup and a sandwich. I spent half an hour in the cafeteria with a fruit salad and a coffee.
When I returned to the trauma room the mentally handicapped man was gone and so was the migraine sufferer. They had been replaced by a middle-aged lady and a young girl. The curtain was pulled around George’s bed and I could just make out the back of the on duty cardiologist’s head through the gap in the drapes. I quietly crept in. Thirty seconds later, after a sort discussion, the cardiologist pronounced George dead and they wheeled him away. His heart had just stopped beating. One minute he was asking for water from the nurse he called “Cutie” and the next he was being wheeled, lifeless, down the hall. None of the other patients even noticed.
I stood and looked at the empty spot where George’s bed had been. I stood motionless there until they wheeled in another bed for a 70-year-old woman having difficulty breathing. She asked the nurse, who she called “Sweetie,” if her daughter had been called yet. She didn’t ask me if I wanted to play cards.