Though I live in a relatively small enclave of a much larger city, there are still occasions where I will see someone I recognise. It could be hospital staff, another physician, a nurse, or a patient or their family member. One of my patients several years ago (whom I did not recognise as first) turned out to be a woman who lived just a few houses down from me. It is usually difficult for me to identify a familiar face, because while I am good at recognising the face, I am terrible at coupling a name or place to it. But there are some faces that just stand out for whatever reason, and these faces tend to belong to people who, for one reason or another, have made an impact on my brain.
Yes, that's foreshadowing.
It was right around lunch time, which my stomach kept reminding me by attempting to digest itself (or so it felt and sounded), when Paolo (not his real name™) was brought to me in a heap of mud and vodka. According to the ambulance crew, Paolo had thought it would be a really fantastic idea to drink heavily during his lunch break at work and then drive his van off the road, causing it (and him) to roll over several times. I have to assume his right foot tumbled partially out of the window as the vehicle rolled, which caused it to get crushed between the van and the road and mangled both the foot and the van nearly beyond recognition. It's difficult to describe the carnage I found around what-used-to-be his ankle, but let's just say that there were very few structures I could actually identify as belonging to a human foot. And for the first time in my career, I removed a piece of a pencil from a traumatic wound.
Yet despite his grisly injury, he had surprisingly very little pain as we examined him and found no other injuries (other than a few lacerations on his scrotum. No, I have no idea how that happened). I suppose there is a reason the phrase "feeling no pain" exists.
Anyway, I'll just give you the short-short version: I sutured his scrotum and Paolo lost his leg, but he lived.
Wait wait wait, that's it? 'He lost his leg'? And you sutured his scrotum and aren't going to tell us anything more about that? That's the end of the story? What the hell is this, Doc?
What this is, is not a story about Paolo.
Uh . . . what?
Haha, the old bait and switch! I teased you with what you thought was an interesting story, but I'm swapping it for (what I think is) an even-more-interesting story, which will probably fall flat and be interesting to no one but me.
Alas, woe is me.
Aaaaaanyway yes indeed, this story is not about Paolo but rather about the guy who was taking Paolo's blood pressure, getting him a warm blanket, and reporting his findings back to the trauma nurse. I had no idea who he was. He wasn't one of the trauma nurses, because there were already two of them there and he was dressed in street clothes. He was a young guy in his mid 20's, handsome, tall, long hair, and he had a hospital badge, so clearly he wasn't just some guy who walked in off the street offering to help.
I know this kid, I thought. Who is he? Is he the son of a family friend? A neighbour No wait, is he the guy who replaced my refrigerator motor last year? I just couldn't place him, but he definitely looked familiar. Very familiar.
If anyone had been watching me from across the room, it must have looked as if I were ogling this kid, which I, uh, I guess I was in a way.
This bizarre leering continued for at least five minutes as he continued bustling around helping the nurses and I continued racking my brain for some inkling as to just who the hell he was. Finally, still at a loss, I decided that I had imagined the whole thing and that I didn't actually know him and that he wasn't the guy I saw buying 10 packs of Velcro at the hardware store last week (my mind goes to some rather strange places sometimes). I started berating myself for wasting so much time in this futile endeavor, and right around then the kid finally caught my eye, cocked his head, and smiled knowingly. As he walked up to me holding his hand out for a handshake with a big grin on his face, it instantly hit me, and I smiled back, extended my hand, and said,
"Oh, hello again Theo."
His grin brought it all back to me. I had seen Theo (not his real name™) in my trauma bay almost exactly four years ago to the day. He had been working as a volunteer medic, standing on the side of the road helping the victim of a minor car crash in the middle of the night, when a drunk driver plowed into him and another volunteer at high velocity. Both of them had been brought to me, but Theo was in much worse shape. While the other young lady had a minor fracture of her thoracic spine and a few abrasions, Theo had a horrific open skull fracture and a large subdural haematoma. He underwent surgery to remove a portion of his skull and evacuation of the blood clot and then spent several weeks in hospital before going to a brain injury rehabilitation facility. I remember him as being extremely polite, always willing to participate, always thankful, and always smiling.
He had had another operation several months later to replace his portion of skull followed by many more months of rehab. And now here he was, four years later, completely recovered.
And on his way to nursing school.
Instead of being turned off to the medical field, Theo told me that his experience only strengthened his will to continue his pursuit of helping. Today he was shadowing the trauma nurses and gaining experience for the future. As Theo put it, "As stupid as it sounds Doc, after seeing firsthand what paramedics, nurses, and doctors can do, I just want to give back. Pretty corny, right?"
I didn't think it sounded corny at all. I actually thought it sounded rather wonderful.