Our daily cowardice

He’s young, 60 or 65. I don’t know what or whom brought him here first, most likely a stroke, or a nice cousin.

His room is right in the middle of the corridor. The « ER corridor », where we park for a few days patients who end up in the ER, too bad to go home, not bad enough for ICU, cases not simple enough to be quickly admitted to a traditional inpatient ward. We have room for only eight people in this ER corridor. If you take on your shift with a corridor full, you know right away that you won’t have room for the old lady showing up out of breath in the middle the night, that you’re in for four hours on the phone with every single hospital around. You know it’s a bad start.

Anyway, he ended up here. Lucky guy.

He screams, he’s agitated, he hits, he’s tied to the bed.

He screams. He never stops screaming. I somehow feel like screaming too.

He screams two things, only two things, tirelessly.

The first one in an echo of the last thing he heard. He starts crescendo, then higher and higher, over and over again.

« You have to caaaaaAAAAAAAAAALM DOOOOOOOOOWN ! YOU HAVE TO CAAAAAAAAALM DOOOOOOOOOOOWN ! »

Or « Please lie doooOOOOOOOOOOW ! PLEEAASE LIIIIE DOOOOOOOWN ! »

We could actually have a lot of fun with him. Go into his room, say « Pee pee poop » and watch out for the nurses’ face when he starts screaming…

The second thing he screams is the only one that is his own. I guess he keeps it for when he forgot what he was just screaming. His personal phrase is :

« The head is EMPTYYYYYYYYYYY ! THE HEAD IS EMPTYYYYYYYYYY ! »

His face is distorted, his eyes are way too wide open, way too fixed on me.

It’s true. It’s true that your head is empty. It’s been empty for four days, but before that it was perfectly full. That’s when a tiny piece of blood decided to block an artery in your brain, to see if it could be any fun. Your head is empty and you’re terrified.

And I’m terrified too.

What’s happening in this head of yours, just full enough to know it’s empty ?

And what’s more, what’s more, what can I tell you ?

Should I tap your hand saying « Nah nah nah, there’s a good lad, your head’s not empty, come on, come on, ahaha » ?

Should I say « There, there, it’s okay, everything’s all right, calm down » ?

Should I say « Hell yeah, buddy, well well well, there’s nothing in there, nope, no luck… » ?

What can I say ?

I cannot reassure him. Truth is, his head is empty, and most probably it’s not going to get any better. Truth is, he hits and spits on his wife who comes to visit him everyday, and who’ll end up not coming anymore, or maybe once a week, on Sunday, because one has to be a good wife.

Truth is, the best that can happen is we find him a place in some nursing home, with nurses who will sigh when entering his room and ask the doctor if the prescription of haloperidol couldn’t be raised a little bit, because he’s exhausting the team.

What can I say ? I thought about talking to him a long time, of anything, anything to fill his head a little bit, like when you rock a baby. Talk to him about what’s the weather like, tell him that his wife called and she sends him kisses, that it’s now 11.30 and lunch will be served soon, but today’s menu is nothing exciting.

That’s the only thing I could do, really, but I don’t have the time. Not the courage either. The ER keeps going, people keep arriving, the pager pages, and I can’t spend ten minutes trying to talk to you about anything, knowing perfectly that at best I could maybe (maybe!) soothe you for thirty-four minutes and you would have forgotten right afterwards.

So I do like everyone else.

At first, two or three times I get into your room and I say something meaningless and stupid to calm you down ; shorter and shorter, more and more stupid, feeling vaguely silly to try to change the world with my stupid sentence. (And absolutely silly when it’s my stupid sentence that you starts screaming to the world…)

Afterwards I’m not going in, I walk past your room looking at my feet, looking busy, like «I have lives to save ».

And when the nurse asks me to prescribe some loxapine, because for God’s sake no one can work in such conditions, I put my signature on it, and I can’t wait it works and puts you in a daze.

I would like to know how not to be ashamed of this prescription I’m writing only for myself because, for you, I’m not doing anything.

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