She was young, pretty, and dead. Another victim of a head-on collision on a stretch of winding road outside of town where we get the great majority of MVC’s in the rural hospital in which I work. We knew it was going to be bad when we heard the ambulance traffic call out the “Code Three with one” as it was en route from the accident site.
She was resuscitated, but after an hour we knew that nothing more could be done for her. After calling the code, my attention turned to the sometimes worst part of our job, notifying the next of kin. She had a cell phone in her bag, and on it “Mommy.”
I can still hear her voice as she cheerily answered “Hi! Good morning!” Had I been in a different frame of mind, I would have taken the time to try to figure out how to find the actual number in her contact list. But, Monday morning quarterbacking aside, I did what my instincts told me to do at that moment.
Once I said that her daughter had been in a serious accident, she immediately passed me off to the girl’s father “who was a doctor and would understand better.” I steadied my voice as I informed him that his daughter had died. I held the phone near my ear but somewhat away as the wails and cries filled the small space I was in. Their grief carrying across the hundreds of miles that separated us.
They would come right away, he reassured me. I told him to take his time and await our phone call. There were other calls that had to be made. To CHP. To the donor network. To the coroner. After about an hour, my nursing supervisor told me the family was coming and would like to stop by the hospital to talk to me.
Several hours and a multitude of patients later, they arrived. I spent some time with them explaining what I knew of the accident and about the resuscitation effort. As a doctor, he had a lot of questions and wanted to know everything in detail. Toward the end of the visit, I found out she had only recently moved and was actually working at one of our local shops.
Then I remembered her. A bright, smiling girl who helped me with a purchase not even a week ago. I tried to wrap my head around that image and not of the broken patient who had been brought to my ED just hours earlier. I’m still trying.