The run was dispatched as an unconscious victim. When Janner and I got to the scene, we came up on a distraught elderly woman who was crying softly and patting her husband’s cooling blue-white hand. He was most certainly dead, but I went through the motions of putting on the monitor and recording a strip, documenting Asystole. I told her there was nothing to be done. I held her as she sobbed out her story onto my shoulder:
“He was having so much pain in his legs. His legs just were such trouble for him. I think he came out here to the couch so as not to disturb me. I came out and found him in such pain and I decided to rub his legs vigorously to get some circulation to them. I don’t know what happened, but he gasped a few times, and then he didn’t breathe anymore. I guess it was just his time to go.” She continued to sob, as I sent a warning glance to Janner, as I feared she would say what we were both thinking. I contacted the coroner a few days later, and sure enough, he had died of a pulmonary embolism, which is a clot in his lung. Deadly. Rubbing the legs, particularly if they are bruised, old, damaged, etc., is very dangerous. It can break off a clot in the leg, sending it traveling through the bloodstream until it lodges at the narrowest part of a blood vessel…usually in the lung. Some can survive this, but many do not. I held her a long time and offered reassurances that she had done the most loving thing she could do for her husband in his time of need. We talked about their marriage and how much in love they were. They had been married for a long time. After I called the coroner to the scene, we left, and I sat contemplating the situation for a while. I thought about the plight of the widow, who could not know that her final act of kindness and comfort did him in. Yet, it was an act of love. I think there are things that should never be said. The truth of this was one of those times. I knew that the coroner’s report would not give her a clue as to her part in her husband’s demise. Situations like this…acts of love by the most well-meaning people are acceptable to me. No malice or evil; just love and concern, which are rare commodities in our life on the street. I have thought of her many times since. I do not know why this particular run has stuck in my mind. We had such a short little bit of time with people in the job we were in. Hopping from one run to the other. Clearing one code 3 run for the next.
On that run, I stayed for a while. The streets were quiet for a change, and I had the time. I have always been grateful for that brief interlude of love and comfort from one woman to another in a time of grief. And there was an exchange of gifts. I gave to her the peace and comfort of keeping a secret which would never be revealed, and she gave to me a picture of her deep, eternal love for a man which lasted over so many years. The last thing she did for him was to attempt to ease his pain. Janner asked me later if I thought it was right not to tell the elderly woman the truth. And I told my young colleague that kindness is superior to truth.
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