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|Life, Death, Madness - Page 11|
So I stayed. In time, I was reassigned from Psychiatry to the hospital's Emergency Department, a different kind of encounter with wounded people. Here in the ED, homeless men must have their sneakers cut from their feet in the dead of winter: I sit with them in their befuddlement and their odor, searching for words that will allow them to trust me enough to speak. Here, a young mother and father arrive with their infant found white and lifeless in her crib: SIDS has taken their 5-month-old, and for the next seven hours, I'm one of several staff who accompanies them in their grief. Here, a beloved great-grandmother who's fallen while shopping is brought to us with a life-threatening head injury: three generations of family are present, sobbing and in shock. Here, I sit through the night with Cyrus's family.
I thought, at first, that ED work might be beyond me. Trauma and death pass through these doors in the most urgent crises imaginable, short of war or natural disaster. But almost from the start, I found myself immersed, able to forget myself and my small anxieties in the much larger human enterprise. Trauma response seemed to bring out the best in me.
Something has shifted in me, too. My own crisis of spirit has yanked back another curtain for me—the curtain that separates human beings from each other. I know, now, that we're really all in this together. The ED is a nexus, a portal from a predictable life to sudden, random catastrophe. It could be any one of us. And in that moment of facing the abyss, who doesn't yearn for someone to accompany them, a simple human presence to sit beside us and be unafraid of our pain? My real work, I think, is to be worthy of that wish.