January 29th, 2014

They rushed him in at around 1:45 am. For me, we were just getting started. For any nurse, that was early in the night. I rubbed the exhaustion from my eyes, slipped on the rubber gloves, and took a deep breath.

His name was Milo Rodriguez. Several bullet wounds to the abdomen, one had penetrated the lower ribcage. It wasn’t the first one tonight. I prepped the IV and stuck his arm.

It was easy. Typical work. Everyone working in the ER saw this kind of thing. Every single shift.

But that night was different.

I don’t know what it was about that night. I don’t know what it was about Milo. We’d seen dozens of kids in their 20’s. Young. Full of life. They had no reason they had to be shot at. But we saw it every night.

I stayed with Milo as they ran him into the OR. The doctors prepped. Sue and I carefully cut Milo’s shirt off of his heaving chest. He looked into my eyes. We helped the doctor with beginning the surgery, handing him the tools. My racing heart slowed after the rush of bringing Milo in. I breathed deeply, slowly, methodically.

Whenever I was slowing down after an intense rush like that, I had a special breathing pattern that would always relax me. Four short inhale breaths, one long exhale, one long inhale, three short exhales. It was to the beat of a terrible song from the 80’s, but I’d heard the song one night, right before an intense ER shift, and it stuck.

So as I watched the doctor try to desperately save Milo’s life, I was slowly breathing to the beat of an 80’s song. Four short inhale breaths, one long exhale, one long inhale-

Suddenly, he squeezed my hand.

I looked down, and Milo had a death grip on my hand. It wasn’t uncommon – Patients did it all the time. It was calming, just like that damn 80’s song that was stuck in my head.

The doctor finished the operation, and Milo was wheeled out of the OR. Sue and I cleaned up.

I looked up at the doctors. They pulled off their masks.

“That was easy.”

“Yeah, that final part was difficult, I couldn’t believe the tearing and…”

Their voices faded out.

It was easy.

I walked out into the hallway, stripping the gloves off of my fingers. I went to the ladies room. I sat on the floor, and cried.

It was typical work. It was supposed to get easier. The more you do something, the more you get used to it. The more you see something, the less it means. I saw this kind of thing every single shift.

But I would never get used to it.


Sign up to receive A Story Each Day via email:

* indicates required