The terror in her eyes told me she was frantically thinking she would die. I knew it, because her stare was penetrating – all of a sudden my whole integrity, my being and all my thoughts were swallowed by her eyes, in one full gulp of terror.
When they say that time slows down when things are falling apart, it’s almost true. Thinking back on that day now, I feel every second, every gesture amplified, as if it took forever. However, back in that room, time felt as if it was horribly slipping off my hands, and every sound of the ‘gas and air’ was deep and rapid and almost piercing into my ears.
Within the space of an hour the room had filled with two doctors – one still to come-, two midwives and me, the useless medical student. First I thought the suturing might be going a bit slower than usual as the midwife felt out of practice. As time kept ticking, however, I had this feeling of something-just-not-right growing bigger and bigger inside me. And the midwife felt it too. As did the patient.
“Do you mind calling in my senior?”
And so it began. From the senior, it was the doctor, then it was swabs, then more doctors, then the anaesthetist, then swabs, and suturing needles, and screams, and tears.
As the blood kept flowing, and the doctors firmly repeated to the patient to stay still and relax – imagine how well that was going – I felt as helpless as never before.
So I did the only thing I knew how to do.
I picked up some tissues, and stood by the patient’s side, picking up her tears. I held her and told her to breathe, and things would be okay. And without words, I just said that I was there.
That’s when she looked right into my eyes. I never felt a gaze that strong, full of fear and life and terror and fight. Those eyes sent me into a state of surreality for the rest of the shift. I saw them everywhere, if I closed my eyes they were there. But in the moment, I held her, and felt her pain and her wet tears on the tissue I just replaced.
The bleeding stopped.
I saw her later, on a quieter ward. We gave each other simple smiles and spoke formalities – but our eyes met again, and without words, she said thank you.