September 11, 2008

Anne Webster, RN

DRY DROWNING

He comes walking into the ER, holding
hands with a wife and a little boy.
A big guy, he’s wheezing like
a pump organ in a country church.
“I’m thirty-five today. It’s my asthma.”
I put him on a stretcher, start inhalers,
page the ER doc, get an IV going,
shoot some epinephrine, but the dumb
galoot stops breathing. Laryngiospasm.
I grab a lung man who’s walking by.
He intubates, and I squeeze that ambu bag
like a pastry chef icing a wedding cake,
but the man’s lungs aren’t getting air,
his blood pressure rockets. Now his heart
flutters, stops. We pump his chest,
shock him—again and again—nothing
but a straight line. Ten minutes after
he arrives we pronounce him. His wife
and kid wait in the lobby, expecting
him to amble out with a birthday grin
ready for songs and cake. What they get
is me and some strange doctor, our faces
wearing the news. On the drive home
at midnight, I count each breath I take,
waiting to see if there will be a next one.

from Rattle #28, Winter 2007