Part of the
Language, Discourse, Society
book series (LDS) Abstract
How do we picture ourselves dying? A ‘death with dignity’ — the darkened room, the family gathered around the bedside, a few murmured farewells, and then an exit ‘gentle into that good night’? Essentially, it’s a nineteenth-century death: a tubercular death ameliorated by opium, a death that has come to be labelled the ‘good death’. Or is it in the lights-flashing, siren-wailing, chest-pumping maelstrom of an ambulance hurtling towards the ER?
2 Certainly, in the last ten years, the two most robust vehicles of popular culture, film and television, have opted for the latter. In films such as Flatliners and Bringing Out the Dead, and in television shows such as ER and Casualty, 3 we are confronted, almost nightly, with a technological whirlwind of death. Keywords Epinephrine Opium Defend
Saving a life is the ultimate rush.
In the opening scene of the movie, Bringing Out the Dead, it’s night. The flashing red lights of an ambulance are reflected in a black street shiny with rain. The ambulance pulls up to the open door of an apartment building. Paramedics, one thin and pale, the other fat and sweating, haul open the back doors of the ambulance and pull out equipment. The paramedics labour up the dark narrow stairs to the top floor. The door to the apartment is open. An elderly woman in a nightdress points towards the bed. A grey-haired man is lying crosswise on the bed. At the head of the bed, a young woman is giving mouth-to-mouth and the occasional chest compression. A man, kneeling at the foot of bed says: ‘It’s my Dad. We were just watching TV. And he started punching his chest.’ The thin paramedic approaches the bed, leans over the old man. Ear next to nose, listening for breath. At the same time, he checks for a carotid pulse. The paramedics grab the old man by his arms and legs and move him from the bed to the floor. The old man’s eyes are rolled back in his head. His arms flop loosely. The thin paramedic kneels at the old man’s head. His left hand opens the old man’s mouth by pushing down on the stubble-covered chin. He feels for breath. Opens an orange bag. Pulls out the laryngoscope. The fat paramedic slaps electrodes onto the grey-haired chest; sweat drips from the paramedic’s chin. The daughter sheds quiet tears. The son gazes anxiously towards bed. The defibrillator is turned on and beeps twice. Thin paramedic attaches an ambubag to ET tube. He turns to daughter. ‘I need you to squeeze this once every three seconds.’ Sound of defibrillator charging up: ‘Breeeeeeeeeeeeeeep.’ Defibrillator paddles are rubbed together to spread the electrode paste. ‘Clear! Clear.’ ‘ZAP!!!’ The old man’s body convulses. Wife flinches. Daughter shakes her head and looks away. Defibrillator recharges: ‘Breeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep.’ Gasp and tears from daughter. ‘Clear! Clear.’ ‘ZAP!!!’ Chest convulses. Daughter screams: ‘No more. Please stop.’ More tears. ‘Breeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep.’ ‘Clear! Clear.’ ‘ZAP!!!’ Body arches and flops back with a thud. Daughter in tears. Bends down to embrace father. The thin paramedic pops the top off an amp of epinephrine. Inserts a needle into IV line. The fat paramedic begins chest compressions. ‘One-thousand-one, one-thousand-two, one-thousand-three…’ The thin paramedic looks towards the cardiac monitor. A flat green line wavers across the screen.
© John Anthony Tercier 2005