It was my first day in the ICU (Intensive Care Unit). It was my first patient as a nurse, not a student nurse or a being-trained nurse, but as a fully-made-it-here-is-your-assignment-for-the-day nurse. It was my first time seeing someone die. I was only on the job for three hours.
He had no family or friends that anyone knew of. He had been previously seen at this hospital for various ailments and issues. He had signed papers declaring his wishes to not be resuscitated. He had re-signed those papers each time he was admitted. No CPR. No rescue breathing. No interventions. He had been picked up off the street and brought in the night before by medics. He had been in bad shape.
He did not recover this time.
I was the only other person in the room when he died. I held his hand and stood there. Being. I did not know what else to do. I knew how to do CPR and give medications and defibrillate irregular heart rhythms. I knew how to start IV lines and call codes and fill rooms to capacity with people whose entire purpose is to save a life.
I did not know what to do when there was nothing to be done.
So I stood there. I held his cool, purple hand. Knowing he was gone without looking at the monitors. Just knowing that a presence that had been there was not there anymore. I was alone in that sterile, white room with flashing lights and beeps. It was the first time I had considered the difference between a body and a soul.
Then the charge nurse came in and asked why I was holding his hand. The nurse in the pod next to me said she would grab the body bag. The cleaning crew came thirty minutes later. The paperwork was completed. Just over one hour later there was another patient in the room. Another life fighting to live.
Life. Death. Beginnings. Endings. Sometimes there is nothing to be done. No doing. Just being. Be present. Bear witness to life. To death. As it cycles.