Posted on April 9, 2012 by


I live across the street from a beautiful stone cathedral and just a few blocks away from an equally soaring synagogue: it is impossible for me to miss Passover/Easter weekend.  I wasn’t present at Sunday services myself because I had to be at work, but the morning air was crisp and the sun was sparkling on my drive to the hospital.  Spring, with all of its possibilities, was fresh in the air, even in the windowless environment of the Emergency Department.  And then someone died.

The code lasted for 45 minutes, but even with the frenzied ant-hill activity of 25 people in a very small room desperately trying to reverse impending catastrophe, the cardiac monitor never stopped alarming, its shrill beeping broadcasting the absence of a perfusing rhythm.  Sometimes I hear that noise in my dreams–nightmares, actually–because this is the soundtrack of dying, the emergencies that bring us running, the reminder that for all of the living I do here in a hospital, I never ever ever ever ever want to die in one.

The man who died was not my patient and so I know nothing about his story or the lives of the family members who huddled in a cluster outside the room, weeping with the certainty of what was coming.  Yet as I watched them walk out when it was all over, after the requisite forms had been signed and the autopsy request granted, I realized the bitter irony that this day celebrating resurrection will always be the day of their deepest grief.

Does watching the last moments of a loved one’s life play out in the chaos of a prolonged code help or hurt?  When death comes so unexpectedly, is there anything that can be done or said to make such a wrenching loss easier to bear?  I don’t know, and I don’t know where this family finds themselves today.  But I hope they are okay.