Thursday, March 10, 2005

What If

Did I save a life?

In life there are no What Ifs. We have no controlled study for each case. I do not know what might have happened if a condition changed. What If is an invisbile monster. You can speculate, but you cannot know what it looks like. Your best guess is all you have.

Last night I covered another doctor’s patients. Late at night, early in the morning, I got a page from the operator. There was no information other than a name and a number.

The voice on the other end of the phone was slurred. Her voice seemed loosened. It came out of the phone in foamy waves that didn’t have form or function. Associations were loose. My first thought was that it was a drunken caller. “Hello. I’m not sure. What did I do was I went up and now I’m here where I am. But it’s a good thing. A good thing that I brought my pills. But that’s OK. Because I’m here with me.”

Well, that’s just fine. Her mushy words, half formed, nearly incomprehensible, but she brought her pills. That was clear. Drunkenness can be caused by more than alcohol.

“Where are you?”


“Are you at home?”

“I’m here. How did you get this number? Did I call you?”

“Are you safe?”

“So far.”

“Are you going to hurt yourself?”

And to that she told me that it hadn’t helped in the past.

I spent a few minutes trying to get her to tell me where she was. I told her to hold on. And called 911. She hung up.

An hour later I called the phone number. This time a man answered with “Who is this.” It wasn’t phrased as a question. I told him I’m doctor NOS knowing already what had happened. The operator somehow got the location out of her, and I knew I was talking to a cop. I knew this had a happy ending.

I want to believe that I saved someone. Such things are rare in my line of work. I’m not as trivial or as well paid as a dermatologist. I put my typical utility somewhere between a good plumber and a good bottle of wine on a summer afternoon. I can by helpful when needed. Sometimes I add quality to life. I’m not as useful as the supports to a bridge. Or the airplane’s wing. Or even a fire hydrant (nor am I as dormant, I do, however, occasionally burst forth fluids of various types and viscosities).

But last night I nearly came close to a bridge support. Perhaps I saved a life. Perhaps she would have put the thoughts and the weapon down on her own. I want to believe I helped. I want to believe I’m responsible for the continued survival of a person. But wants to not make facts. I will never know the What If. The What If that had me dismiss a drunk in the middle of the night, and left someone alone in the dark.


Blogger laurenbove said...

OH Great, comments are back. I left a comment for you on my blog b/c Blogger has the flu.

11:31 AM  
Blogger marybishop said...

Oh yes, you saved a life. This particular life? Not sure.

The most exasperating part of anyone's life is you don't always know when you've done the magical and magnificent.

Sometimes it takes years to hear: "You won't believe it but if it weren't for you I wouldn't be here today..."

Another Doc would have hung up on the first mushy word...trophy wife and cocktail party waiting..
kudos to you doc

8:22 PM  
Blogger Ern said...

Hi Doc,
I stumbled onto your site in my procrastinating web rambling. I should be studying. (I'm a med student--you can relate to that?) I like your writing, and will be back.

2:51 PM  
Blogger Doc NOS said...

Thanks for the comments. MB: totally right. No-one gets to see what the control would have been and no-one owes their life to you except your kids.

Ern, I'm so sorry. I can relate. Med school sucks and afterwards is worse.

12:30 PM  

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