89 Years and Two Days

89 years and two days she had spent on this planet.

65 of them married to her first love.  Her only love.  The man she’d spend her entire adult life with.  The only man she ever looked at according to her daughter.

62 of those years spent taking care of her babies.  Four of them, three boys and a girl.  The children she doted over from the day each was born.  Her mothering instinct would never leave her.  Her oldest three were already retired, with great grandchildren of their own.

5 years spent grieving the death of her husband and best friend.

7 months living with pancreatic cancer.  Dealing with constant pain that never could completely be controlled.  Slowly but surely realizing that if she chose to remain in her home, she would have to allow her children to take care of her…  Their roles would be reversed.

When we arrived at Rita’s home, it was just her and her adult children.

In hushed tones they explained the situation:  She was very weak.  She wasn’t able to keep food down anymore.  She was in so much pain, yet she was refusing her pain meds.  There were times where she wouldn’t be able to catch her breath, even with the nasal cannula and 50 feet of oxygen tubing.  They were all in tears, at their wits end.  They wanted to take care of her so badly, but she was refusing any comfort they offered her.

I knelt at her bedside, touching her right wrist.  I could feel her heart beating away her pulse was a little tachy, her skin was cool.  ”Ma’am, my name is Epi… I’m here to take you to Hospice.”

Her eyes slowly closed as she nodded.

“All right, Mrs Benson, I’m going to go get some of your belongings together, I’ll be right back with you.”  I gently squeezed her hand.

“Young lady, call me Rita” she whispered.

“Yes, Ma’am. Rita it is.  I’ll be right back.”  I left her with her daughter and went about gathering some personal effects that might bring her any measure of comfort in an unfamiliar place.  Pictures of grandchildren, great grandchildren, even great great grandchildren.  A framed picture of her beloved.  A quilt that she had made shortly after her wedding.  Her house coat and slippers.  Her pillow.  Her three sons loaded them into a van along with a grocery bag filled with medications, her walker and her wheelchair.

When I returned, Rita was sitting up in her hospital bed with her daughter making a last plea, ”Mom, please take something for pain, the medics said that it can be an uncomfortable ride.”

She just shook her head and mouthed the word “No”.  When her daughter asked her if she’d like a sip of water, she refused it.  I made eye contact with her frazzled daughter and suggested that maybe she leave the room for a second to help her brothers (and to allow her emotions to settle).  She nodded and left quietly.

“Ma’am… Rita…  I know that you’ve been hurting, please reconsider.  The ride over will be bumpy, the last thing I want is for you to be uncomfortable.  Believe me, I’m back there all day, and it’s rough on me, even.”

She whispered, “Do you really think I need it?”

I nodded.

“Okay.  If you say so.”

“Rita, My partner and I are going to get you moved over to our stretcher.  We’ll cover you up with a blanket and get you comfortable.  I’m going to ask your daughter to give you your pain meds, alright?”

Rita’s eyes slowly scanned the room, as if she was saying a silent goodbye to every framed picture, every knick-knack, every memory that she had made with her family there.

We gave her a moment to gather herself then we moved her gently to our stretcher.

**********

The ride in the back of the squad was bumpier than I had anticipated.  I think we hit every pothole and crack in the road between that farm house and the facility.

“Rita, how are you feeling?  Are you warm enough?”  I had shut down the a/c and her hands still felt cold, her nails beds dusky.

“I could use a blanket, Annie.  Be a dear?”  She was looking at me, but she wasn’t seeing me…. It took me a second to realize who Annie was.  Annie was Rita’s daughter.  Annie was not in the back of the truck, she was two cars behind us crying in her car.

I grabbed two blankets and covered Rita up.  ”Rita, Annie’s not here, she’ll meet us over at–” I stopped speaking when she reached up with a shaky hand to brush my bangs out of my eyes.  It was a simple movement on her part.  A simple every day thing that a Mom does to her daughter.  My Mom had done it to me countless times.  She’s still does it today and I’m 34-years-old.

“Annie, how many times have I told you to keep your hair out of your eyes? Just like when you were a little girl.”  Her voice cracked.

I wasn’t sure how to respond, so I did the only thing that came naturally.  I just smiled.  ”I guess I need to work on that still.”  I adjusted the O2 running to her n/c, increasing it just a bit.

“Did you turn the lights off?” Rita asked.

“Yes,” I nodded.

“Did you lock the front door?”

I nodded again.

“Good girl.”  She closed her eyes and lay her head back on the stretcher.

“You taught us well.” I whispered.

72 Comments

  • The MacMedic says:

    Well done.

  • Shell1972 says:

    That is the utter essence of emergency care and brought me to tears. Awesome job Epi

    • epijunky says:

      It wasn’t one of those glamorous runs that we like to talk about in the ambulance bay, but it meant something to her and her daughter. It stuck with me. And it’s part of the reason why I will never be fulfilled working in another field. Thanks, Shell :)

  • Mex EMT-I says:

    Everyday we get into the tragedies of life, the worst wrecks, situations the average people canīt imagine.

    But this are the type of calls that give us focus on what our job really is about.

    It is always an honor to care for the ones that have more steps behind them than us.

    Great job Epi.

  • Very nice.

    (Tears in my eyes)

  • Davey K says:

    A lot of people go into this field for the adrenaline rush. They’re not happy unless they’re working a multiple victim MVA with entrapment, traumatic arrest, and using everything in the drug bag.

    I have often felt that we were put into this career for a reason. We were given the skills to take care of the sick and injured. And the dying.

    Sometimes, all a patient needs is someone to listen to them. Someone to sit with them. Someone to reassure them. Or just someone to comfort them on what will probably be the second-to-last ride they’ll take in a vehicle.

    I know a whole lot of people who need to read this post. Maybe a little something to help them remember that we are here to serve others, not ourselves.

    +1 for you Epi. Well done.

    • Tyler says:

      You’re so very right Dave. My experiences in the EMS field led me into social work and now into my Masters of Social Work degree. The feeling of being there for people to talk to was one of those reasons. The other being the horrendous mental health care offered to emergency service workers.

  • Mack505 says:

    Epi,

    It’s been a long day, and then you have to go and hit me with this. :-)

    Bravo.

    Counting my blessings tonight.

  • michael says:

    There is so much to see, and hear and experience while on the clock, I’m glad you are able to capture it. Great job!

  • Yep, you made me cry, too. Thank you for sharing this wonderful story with us. Even as a Flight Paramedic of 10 years, some of my most rewarding EMS experiences were as simple as holding a scared and or dying elderly patient’s hand. Thanks for making a difference.

  • Old NFO says:

    Thanks for making a difference Epi…

  • Medic 22 says:

    Beautiful. Simply amazing.

    Tears in my eyes.

  • Brad says:

    Wow… I haven’t had a run like that yet, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before I do. Thanks for writing this and letting me know what to expect. *hugs*

    ~Brad
    @EMTGoose

  • RevMedic says:

    Damn.

    Excellent post, Epi. Thanks for sharing. You’re my hero.

  • Sue shulters says:

    Thank you for sharing such a touching story of a life meeting it’s end. I am grateful to have had the same opportunity to help the aged and I hope when my time comes the EMTs will be as comforting as you. Thank you “Epi”. You are truly an inspiration.

  • chicagomedic says:

    I’ve certainly done a few of these. Hardest one was for a teenager with bone cancer. That was a rough hospice call. :/

    • epijunky says:

      @Chicagomedic… One run that really sticks with me was a trip to take a patient from the inpatient hospice facility to their home. When we walked in the room it was a 13 year old girl. You’re never prepared for that. *hug*

  • Renee says:

    Incredible article. Thank you for sharing your experience.

  • Lou says:

    In this first 10 seconds of my first EMT class, the instructor said to us, “It’s all about tender,,loving care.” “If you maintain that outlook, the rest of the job is a piece of cake.”
    Thanks for an inspiring human interest story.

  • I’ve read and re-read this a few times. I like it, what can I say?

  • swimdawg says:

    WOW, just Wow…

  • JB On the Rocks says:

    Only because I can’t rate this six stars…

  • Larry says:

    Exceptional. A sad experience but wonderful at the same time. At the end of her life she was still teaching and inspiring young ones (you and some of readers here). She left quite a legacy and her last ride was part of it.

  • WVmedicgirl says:

    Epi-
    The only thing I can say is “Wow…” as I wipe a few tears from my eyes. I remember when I used to do hospice runs, and they were always difficult for me. I shed more than a few tears with my patients and their families…

  • 510medic says:

    Thank you so much for writing this. I have goosebumps. These are the calls that set apart the great medics, and you absolutely are one. Well done!

  • kaveman says:

    WOW.

    I jumped over here from Wyatt’s blog. I’ve visited a few times in the past and will undoubtedly visit more often in the future.

    BTW, I’m not wowed very easily.

  • CarlS says:

    I last pulled duty on and in an ambulance in 1977. I don’t think the word “paramedic” had been invented yet. Soldiers call for “MEDIC !!!”, you know. Go look in a mirror, Epi, and tell that person you see that she’s a medic. “Para” be damned. A caregiver. A lifesaver. One who’s there. Ask a combat vet what kind of medic they want. One who cares enough to do their very best …. Then, stop worrying. You’ve got what it takes.

  • SolisR says:

    Bravo Zulu.

    ow where’s that damn Benadryl. Allergies must be acting up…

  • Vijay says:

    Wonderful, wonderful post, Epi. Loved it.

  • JDS753 says:

    I didn’t feel like I could leave a comment worthy of what this post deservies, which is why I said thanks in my own way at first, but there’s a reason this post got so much reponse and that’s because your showing us the thunder we need to keep us focused on what matters. Thanks for sharing and caring

  • PJ says:

    Strong work, Epi. Grand Rounds material.

    • rlbates says:

      Not this weeks though. Grumpy is hosting and he wants posts on things that make you grumpy.

      Beautifully written. Even more beautifully done (the care you gave her and her family).

  • Rick O' Shea says:

    As a medical professional I consider myself burned out. Waiting to retire. Disillusioned. Apathetic.

    Then I read something like this.
    And yes, I had to wait to stop crying to write.

    God bless you, Epi. And Never, Ever have any more doubts about why you are here on earth.

  • Jennifer says:

    Beautiful. There was a young man that came to take my granddad to hospice. He was very sweet and understanding and it made all the difference in the world. Thank you for what you do.

  • Jim says:

    If it is worth AD’s time to recommend it, that is all the endorsement I need. He was right, too.

    Jim

  • Linda Tackett says:

    AD sent me over and so glad he did, absolutely beautiful post, cried through most of it because that could be my Mom only few years younger. Lost my Dad last year and she is now in a nursing home because of Alzheimers. Thank you so much for sharing and God bless you for the job you do.

  • fuzzysdad says:

    God Bless you.I Thank God for people like you Epi

  • dagamore says:

    must be dusty in here, great read! I hope my friends and family get care from people half as good as you! Out standing job!

  • epijunky says:

    I just wanted to thank everyone for the sweet comments. I’m without words.

    That doesn’t happen very often, ask my friends.

    Thanks again.

  • Lissa says:

    Lump in the throat? Check
    Tears in my eyes? Check
    Wishing I could shake your hand and give you a hug?* Oh yes, check.

    *Unless you’re not a hugger. Then I’d just lend you my cat. No one can resist head-bumps from The Rajah

  • Taylor says:

    Awesome Job

  • Barb says:

    This brought me to tears also, so much compassion shown by the EMT. Unfortunately some EMT’s don’t have that compassion. I am one of those that do have a great deal of compassion for my patients and I am glad that I am able to comfort my patients in their time of need.

  • LostGirl says:

    It brought me to tears

  • Eileen says:

    that is the truly beautiful side of what we do….

  • Medic999 says:

    Stunning writing Epi!

    You know how much of a softie I am and how I love to tell tales like these, but as I lay here in the dark, in bed, typing away on my phone, the memory of your encounter moves me to tears.

    Thanks for sharing and thank you for being one of the special ones who understand that caring is alot more than just taking people to the hospital and being nice.

  • Justin says:

    I teared up.

  • Dee4141 says:

    Wow
    Simply Wow
    tears are running down my cheeks
    what a story

  • MsParamedic says:

    *bawls*

    i’ve had this happen before. except it was an elderly man who thought i was his deceased wife. He thought he was a kid again. what a great story… you are talented my dear. can’t wait to meet you at Expo!

  • Donna Starr, NREMT-P says:

    Thank you for being a good emt/medic. I can only imagine what sort of experience the lady would have had if she had a crew who treated her like an object instead of a person. You are a credit to our profession.

  • sandy says:

    you know, too often Im asked how I do this job.. you cant explain this experience to everyday joes.. thanks for sharing. I write this with tears, because unfortunately, I too have had calls like this.. nice job!

  • margie says:

    This is why I am here as well not for the glitz and the glamour but for these moments that no words can truly express though you did a wonderful job telling the story I cried because I hope someday my mom or grandmother has an emt or medic with her like you and I hope I can be there for someone else thank you for sharing this wonderful reminder of caring

  • Edd says:

    Thanks for reminding me that i work in a noble profession.. I recall a few trips to a hospice when i was still cutting my teeth on “non-emergent” transport runs.

    That was where i learned that i can’t save everyone.. but even those i cant save i can bring a small measure of comfort to. To this day i still remember that..

    When it is all said and done no matter what else happens my job is to bring comfort and dignity to people no matter who they are or where they are. It is to the stories like this that remind us all what our real calling is. To be able to share this really does make you a credit to our profession.

  • The Other Elle says:

    I hope my Mom gets you when her time comes.
    Thanks for standing in for all of us Daughters out there.

  • Dennis says:

    I will NEVER be able to look at a “nursing home run” the same way again. Thank you. When I face a pt like Rita, I hope I handle it with the grace like you did.

  • Christine Springfield says:

    THAT is exactly why, after being out of EMS for many years, I went back to school to get recertified. I made many, many calls like this one and they were always the ones that convinced me I was making a difference. Thanks for sharing both the tale and your incredible writing skills.

    AD sent me and I will be staying!

  • Kirsten says:

    I came from AD’s place… and so glad I did.

    This is why so many people believed in you, Epi, because they knew you were capable of… this.

    *wiping tears from eyes*

  • JT says:

    These are the calls that make it all worth while. These are the opportunities to really make a difference for someone. You recognize the most important role you will ever play in a patient’s life. That is the true “care-giver” role. Keep up the good work.

  • Ed T. says:

    Thanks for sharing this story.

    Sometimes after all the training is exhausted and we’re at the limit of our scope of practice, simply holding a PT’s hand and letting them know they’re not alone is enough.

  • BH says:

    so often we here about the elderly being abused. what a beautiful story about a gift given. thank you for sharing.

  • EMSTech says:

    What an excellent job. Keep up the good work.

    I’m glad to see there are others out there who care as much for their patients as we do…

  • Mr618 says:

    Epi, for someone who wasn’t sure she could make it, well, you’ve made it. Your tale explains why we go into EMS (and law enforcement and firefighting), and it shows the difference between mere technical competence and those who have a gift for it. You have the gift.

    May I print out your post for distribution to the folks in my service, as a reminder of why we’re here?

  • Beth says:

    Perfect. Thanks.

  • Matt G says:

    Look, I’m a grown-ass man, Epi. I’m calloused from a life of dealing with tough people in tough ways.

    I didn’t even know I could still break down like that, anymore.

  • Steph says:

    My heart to yours, Epi – I’m so proud of what you’ve become, and what you’ve accomplished. As an EMT and an ER nurse, I know where you walk, and wish to follow in your footsteps. God Bless!

  • Minimedic says:

    All I can say is………thanks for reminding us Epi!

  • Mary Meline says:

    Lord bless you. I’m a patient, not a medic. I hope when I or someone I love passes someone is so compassionate to us. In this sometimes hard, cold, frustrating world I hope you stop to realize how very much your caring touches even the worst of us. It’s the part of your job you can’t be reviewed on or compensated for, and believe me, even if we’re too sick or disoriented or just plain onery to tell you, patients notice.

  • Chris Slattery says:

    I am a basic in Colorado and having lost my grandmother just over a month ago, I know the experience. We knew that she didn’t have a lot of time left. The Dr’s found the cancer to late and there wasn’t anything that they could do. Tried a little radiation just to make her comfortable. She meant the world to me. Knowing that there are medic’s out there for me to look to and learn from and make the transition up the ranks, truly makes me grateful for other EMS providers taking the time to make someones life a little easier at the end.

  • I didn’t get a chance to reply when I first read this, but I am back and just re-read it.

    You can’t spell Epic without Epi. Yes, this short epic sums up the essence of what you do and why you do it.

    Thanks for putting into words what many of us have experienced but have been unable to articulate. Thanks.

  • A.Mac says:

    Epi… I loved this. This is why I do the job. The smiles, the caring, the little bits of adrenaline. Well handled… and taking a little care from a “mom” is always comforting no matter what. :)

  • ASM826 says:

    Linked to from my blog, so my half a dozen readers can see what writing is.

  • Medic 22 says:

    …two years later and I STILL love this story.

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