Posts Tagged ‘Suicide’

            When the nurse from the emergency room called me that day to come and assist with a patient, I knew it was not good.  As the pharmacy director in a small, rural hospital, pharmacy is usually called when patients have arrived unconscious, are trauma cases, or when a patient is in respiratory or cardiac arrest.  As I stepped into the trauma room I made a quick assessment of what was happening.  The room was full; respiratory therapists, lab tech, physician, emergency medical techs and nurses crammed the room, all busy and crowded around the patient’s stretcher, medical supplies and equipment strewn everywhere.  One of the nurses filled me in on the patient; second or third attempt to kill herself, the last time was with antifreeze.  I looked at the nurse, startled, “She’s serious,” I said.  She nodded in agreement.  “What did she do this time?” I queried.  Typing the patient’s information into the computer, the nurse replied, “Tylenol and Benadryl.”  I could feel my heart sink.  Tylenol is such a nasty drug with which to overdose. It literally wipes out your liver, depending on how much you take.  I have seen too many people overdose on Tylenol and instead of killing themselves as planned, sentence themselves to a lifetime of severe liver dysfunction. 

            Getting a glimpse of the patient between the sea of medical personnel swarming her bed, I saw she was young, barely 20 years old, with beautiful red hair and smooth pale skin.  A stream of charcoal streaked from the corner of her mouth, staining the sheets and covering the floor.  In my head I added up her chances; serious about killing herself, nasty drug choice, vomited the charcoal antidote, unconscious.  Depending on how much Tylenol she had ingested, she was either going to die or she had severely limited her chances of a healthy life.  “Does she have family?”  I asked the same nurse who was recording her information in the computer.  “Her mother came with her in the ambulance but left when we got her in here.”  She shook her head sadly, “Mom’s got a lot of problems too; bad boyfriend and attempted suicide herself.”  I sighed with the weariness of it all, “Some people have it stacked against them, huh?”  The nurse looked at me with years of experience showing in her eyes, “Yeah, some people definitely have it hard.”

            The anesthetist was at the girl’s head, attempting to put in an endotracheal tube down the girls’ throat to establish an airway to help her breathe.  I could see that the anesthetist struggled to see clearly in the girl’s mouth through the black charcoal vomitus.  I held my breath, knowing that the seconds were ticking away quickly.  The anesthetist’s face was stone-like in concentrated effort. “When did she loose her airway?” I asked the emergency medical tech standing beside me.  “After she vomited the charcoal,” he said.  “She was groggy when we picked her up at her house, but arousable.  Since we’ve gotten here, she’s gone completely unconscious.”  The Benadryl kicking in, I thought.  In the medical world, suicide attempts quickly get categorized: those patients that are serious about killing themselves and those patients using the suicide attempt as a call for help. She was in the “serious about killing herself” category, no doubt.  The anesthetist finally placed the endotracheal tube down the girl’s throat.  Respiratory connected an ambu-bag to the endotracheal tube and began to bag her rhythmically.  The radiology tech swung into action with a chest x-ray to assure the tube was placed correctly.

            “Are we flying her out?”  I asked a nurse.  “Yes.  The helicopter team should be here any minute.”  I wondered if she would even make it to the other hospital.  Overdoses have so many unknowns; how much did the person take, did the person take what we’ve been told that they took, what time did the person take it.  All the unknowns make it very difficult to predict how a patient will do.  The anesthetist passed between me and the girl as she walked out of the room, stripping her blackened gloves.  “Did you see her legs?” she whispered, shaking her head with pity.  “No. What about her legs?”  I peered at the end of the bed and got my first look at the girl’s legs as I asked the question.  The anesthetist shook her head as she opened the door to go out, “Gives me chills.” 

            As I stared at the girls’ legs, I went numb with disbelief.  Deep into her legs, the girl had carved her pain, with clear words that pierced my heart.  The large lettered carvings were fresh, but starting to scab, covering the length of her legs from knee to ankle.  On her left leg, on the front inside of her calf, she had knifed the words in capital letters, “EVERYONE I KNOW GOES MISSING AND LEAVES ME.”    On her right inside calf she scrawled. “WHY DO I EXIST?”  Looking at her beautiful, unconscious face I pictured her sitting at home, alone and distraught, one leg propped across the other, a knife in her hand, leaning over and intently and painfully cutting into her flawless skin.  Her pain became suddenly very palpable in the small ER trauma room.  As the immediacy of her condition stabilized, other medical personnel began to notice her legs and I could see their reactions of shock and compassion.  When the helicopter team strode into the room, one of the nurses quickly and respectfully covered her legs. 

            Knowing that she was in the capable hands of the helicopter flight team, I made my way out of the ER.  My heart felt heavy and incapable of comprehending the vastness of the pain I had just witnessed.   My mind was reeling.  “She has carved into her legs the pain of all mankind,” I thought, “The pain of not feeling worthy enough to have love in your life and the pain of not knowing your purpose in life.  If she lives, she will walk around the rest of her life with scars of her pain vulnerable and exposed on her legs for the entire world to see.”  How many times had I felt the same despair at wanting to understand why I am in the world, feeling hopeless that my life had any purpose?  How many times had I felt alone and misunderstood, unloved and unwanted?   How many times had I covered up my pain with work or busyness, trying not to feel my despair underneath?  The experience left me feeling filleted, like all my hidden pain was now revealed as surely as her legs were scarred with words.

            Like so many patients that are treated in our ER and then flown out, I will never know whether she lived or died.  I do know that in her attempt to end her life she probably affected more people far deeper than she would ever believe.  As I drove into my driveway that night, I couldn’t wait to see my children, whole and happy.  Ever since I had left the ER, I had fought the fear that my own children might feel such despair and pain that they would self-mutilate or attempt to take their life in such a way.  As I hugged my children in relief, I knew that I greeted them with a different heart.  The pain I had witnessed that day in the ER had penetrated my heart as surely as the bold, bloody words scarred the girl’s young body.  I knew that the pain I had witnessed was the pain that we all feel when we imagine that we are separate from God, and without that connection to our spiritual nature, there is no hope.   Who hasn’t felt forgotten by God and felt that, just when we need Him, He “goes missing and leaves us?”  Who hasn’t felt the hopelessness of wondering “why do I exist?”  I felt a silent prayer lift from my heart, a prayer of compassion and desire for all to know their pain is witnessed and they do matter.  And this, I realized, was my life’s dream; that all people would know they are loved and have a purpose in life. 

As I lay in bed that night, staring into the darkness unable to go to sleep, I imagined the red-headed girl again.  I imagined her bent over, wounding herself alone in her intense pain, but this time I also imagined that behind her a loving being wrapped tender and adoring arms around her.  I imagined that she allowed the love of this spirit to soak into her and like a tide, wash away her despair and sorrow.  I imagined her suffering face become soft and full of hope.  I imagined her one day becoming a mother, holding her own beloved children in the same way that this loving being had held her, filled and overflowing with unconditional adoration and love.  I imagined her touching her child’s skin with unspeakable devotion and tenderness, kissing the softness with gratitude for the blessings of life   And this is how I choose to remember her, so that her pain will have been witnessed and given seed to hope.  This is how I choose to feel her pain and release it, knowing that the pain she has shared can be catalyst of compassion and healing.  This is my dream, that one day all people will know love like I imagined she could be loved; then her pain, I believe, would have made a difference.


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