A man died last night. In the early hours I stood in the next bay, gloved and gowned, and put in the central access required for the lifesaving drug that would maintain my patient’s blood pressure. I stood with my ultrasound machine, my sterile equipment, my local anaesthetic, and I watched the heart rate of the patient across from me fall. I watched, over minutes, as the pulse became less regular on the monitor. I watched the blood pressure dropping, watched the ectopic heartbeats become more frequent, and eventually I watched a zero, flashing red, and a flat green ECG trace.
A man died last night. Over the whoosh of the Doppler scan, over the crackle of sterile packs being opened and the hum of the ventilator, I heard the tears of his family at the bedside. I listened to their quiet murmurings as they shared stories about his life, about recent events, about that time when he dropped the tray of roast dinner on the way to the table at Christmas. I heard the brief breakthrough of joy as they remembered those moments, and forgot where they were for a second or two. I heard their pain as their father, brother, and grandfather’s heart stopped beating.
A man died last night. He was my patient. He had been well, and then suddenly he was not. Two days earlier he had been running in the park. That morning he had sat cracking jokes on a trolley in A&E.
We did everything it was possible for modern medicine to do, and it was not enough. After the family had gone, I went in and verified the death. I wrote in the notes. I signed that final entry with a formal signature, more structured than the quick scrawl on the drug chart that I usually make. I sat with a dead man for a minute, and then I went to see another patient. He wanted pain relief. He had been waiting twenty minutes, he told me. I wrote up his medication and I left.