We have no answers to these unbearable algorithms in life

Originally published on KevinMD

Jim Morrison of the Doors once sang, “Petition the Lord with prayer … You cannot petition the Lord with prayer.”

But we did that. We petitioned.

On one side of the ICU, we had an 18-year-old girl, upper middle-class family, had everything. Beauty, brains, money, supportive parents, and she was off into this new bright world, choosing her college of choice. A simple surgery led to sepsis, severe sepsis that raged through her body.

Mom and dad at her side. Dad collapsing over her body, wishing for a miracle. We were all wishing for that miracle. Cheering on every better blood pressure and better temperature and better vent settings.

And then there was Sue. 21 years old, overdose, mom and dad deserted her, and she lead a life of despair, neglect and abuse. She could remember verbal and physical abuse as far back as 4 years old. She tried and she tried to climb that mountain of hope.

But it never came, and through defeat, she overdosed on her anti-depressant meds. She did a good job with her overdose. She was found down at her home, by a friend visiting her. 911 and CPR couldn’t bring her back. And with a slight faint pulse, she was intubated and placed in the ICU. Comatose, non-responsive.

We, the ICU nurses and MDs placed our “petition the Lord on Cee-Cee, the glamorous college student. Though we provided excellence in critical care to both young ladies. The bet was on.

And we lost. And with our loss, we knew we had to evaluate. Cee-Cee coded many times, until there was nothing left. Dad draped his body over his daughter, and sobbed and sobbed, and we all became defeated. We lost, we questioned, we had petitioned. And we lost.

Sue started to rouse. Started to give handgrips and grimace and squirm. ABGs improved significantly to where she was able to be extubated. There was no family member or friend to cheer her on. But after we, the nurses, realized that you can’t will one person to live and let the other person go, we rallied Sue on.

Sometimes, this job, this costume we wear, this stethoscope we wear, becomes unbearable. Tears of sadness for Cee-Cee, tears of unbelievable happiness for Sue. And Sue made it. Not only did she make it out alive, a year later, she sent us a postcard. She was standing on a mountaintop. Accomplished with inner peace. And she thanked us for believing in her.

Sue became a counselor, master’s degree, counseling people just like her. People who had met a dead-end in life. She wanted to share her life and give hope to others. And she did. Triumph.

Lesson learned: We can’t petition, we can’t bet. But we must be steadfast in what we do. And as the nuns once taught me in Catholic school as a little girl: “Thy will be done.”

We have no answers to these unbearable algorithms in life.

We have no answers.

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