I have on my desk a photo of the daughters (7, 12) of the 29 year old woman who I ordered the fatal dose of morphine for when the pain of her colon cancer rode up on her like the wild horses in Eastern Oregon and never left. The kids are smiling, their arms draped over my the shoulders of my white coat, it is years after and they came by to say thank you. I am smiling in the photo also. Time and the process of re-knitting their lives is slowly putting them back together.
I have on my desk the photograph of the woman who is now an EMT. When I met her she had been shot in the chest by her husband. I was a chief resident and my professor was Dr. Davis, a crusty, cynical trauma surgeon who I loved for his compassion. We took her entire right lung out. Doing this in a young person is usually fatal because all the blood that returns to the heart has to go to the lungs for oxygen and then back out to the body. If one lung disappears, the other lung has to immediately compensate. It usually fails. But Dr. Davis had some tricks up his sleeve. We ran her fluids light, kept her “dry” used diuretics and she survived. Fifteen years later I got a beautiful portrait and the letter that said she was alive, that her ex was in prison, that she had returned to school to become and EMT like the ones who had saved her, her daughter all good, and me, all those years later, tearing down my cheeks, loving the miracle of it all. She is a woman without doubt, without hesitation, with all her single lung power, with her voice.