by Tabitha Hill
You don’t know me, and you probably never will. If you were ever to think of me it would be because my face is a blurry memory of the worst day of your life. It was the day you found out you lost her. Or the day you found out he would never be the same again. It was the day you forgot how to think straight and you learned just how many tears you could cry before you were empty.
It was the day you barely remember in some ways, but you’ll never be able to forget. You see it in your dreams, in color, in 3D. I was there that day. I saw you walk in with your husband. Saw you hugging your loved ones and holding hands. I saw you stand in a circle praying desperately. I heard your sobs and I hurt for you. My heart broke so deeply for you.
You don’t know me, but mine were the first eyes you looked into when you walked through the Emergency Room triage doors that day to see your brother. I heard your broken voice making those phone calls to your other brothers, I saw the hugs and the tears and I saw the agony. I held back tears of my own, and walked softly so as not to disturb your grief.
You don’t know me, but I wiped the blood off of his face so you could kiss his cheeks, and the blood off of his hands, so you could hold them again… one last time. I looked at his strong arms and his pale face, touched his hands quickly losing their warmth, and I knew how much love had gone into his life, even though it was a short one. Some people never get to have the love in their lives that you gave him in just his 20 something years. Please know how precious that is, even though no comfort will ever heal the wound left behind that was created in your heart when he was torn away. He left behind so much good.
You don’t know me, but I brushed her long dark hair away from her face and closed her beautiful hazel eyes staring so lifelessly. It’s not fair that eyes that pretty don’t get to sparkle for many, many more years. I remember her makeup, the pinks and purples of her eye shadow done so carefully. Couldn’t have been more than an hour or two before. She was so young. So healthy.
You don’t know me, but I waited there on the helipad for life flight to bring her to us. I knew it was bad, and I cried on the inside for your little ones that would never quite understand what happened that day. I thought of how you would explain it to them, and how you would try to go on.
You don’t know me, but a picture of that person you loved so dearly hangs on the wall next to an extensive organ donor report. That report tells the story of the lives saved by those precious organs that you so selflessly signed over so that other families might go on without an empty space. Even though your own family circle was torn apart, like a town after a tornado, by losing that beautiful soul. That wall helps me get through my day many times. And every time I walk by that same wall, I take a deep breath and run my fingertips over that face, that perfect smile, the rosy cheeks and the radiant expression. They stand for so much.
You don’t know me, and you never will. But my heart has cried along with yours in my own way for the loss of those perfectly imperfect, wonderful people. For the gaps and empty places at Christmas dinner this year. Because to be in this world, and do this job, is so often not pretty. It’s cold and ugly and harsh and agonizing. It reminds me, sometimes daily, how fragile this world is. How fine the line between life and death really is. Do this very long and you’ll be asked that loaded question…’what’s the worst thing you’ve ever seen?’ And I’ll tell you what it is. Not one thing, not a couple of things, but a slide show of times and glimpses of personal lives falling apart. It’s jerking awake in the middle of the night for no reason and seeing a specific face again….not for the first time when there’s no one there. I was part of an incredible, passionate team that day that poured its heart and soul into trying, when it was already too late by most standards.
Please know that I accept and admit I’ll never know your personal story of grief. I will never begin to pretend that I understand what you’re going through. But, in my own world, there has been a fair amount of hurt and tears too. And in some ways, doing those painful difficult things to help ease the blow of your tragedy helps to heal mine, little bit by little bit. Some things will never heal. Like the open wound in your heart. But those things that I did weren’t only for you. They were for me too. Washing blood off of hands, putting a pillow under that head and smoothing her hair, covering him with a warm blanket….it won’t change much. But…in the end, in those last moments, I got to be part of their life too. It might have been the worst and the most painful part of it, but I feel truly honored to have been in it.
The vast majority of patients I’ve been around have not been critical ones. Many have been difficult to work with, many times verbally and, sometimes, physically abusive. They’ve jaded my perspective and turned my personality cynical. I’ve been pushed to make snarky comments, and the staff I work with bands together in a guarded, protective little group. We are each other’s safe zone and we’re there for each other to vent to. But, if someone asked me what the greatest thing I have ever seen was, or what gets me through and makes me love this field so deeply and dearly, I would tell them in a heartbeat. It’s the love in the waiting rooms I have observed. It’s the tearful and heartbroken hugs. It’s the strength families find in each other. It gives me hope in mankind again and reminds me in such a raw, honest way why I do what I do. It helps get me through every single day. You loved them, those ones that are gone, so very much.
And in just my own tiny way, I got to love them too.
About the Author: Tabitha is 27 years old, born and raised in rural Missouri and was home schooled from kindergarten through high school graduation. She grew up with cattle, dogs and lots of sunshine, and wanted nothing more than to attend veterinarian school. During her high school years, and the beginning of college, she took care of cattle and learned about genetics, and worked part-time for cattle farmers, at vet clinics, and livestock auctions.
When Tabitha started college as an animal science major, she planned to pursue a veterinary career, but plans drastically changed when her little brother had a devastating motorcycle accident. His lower body suffered extreme trauma, he was in a coma, spent four months in a level one trauma center, and suffered the loss of his right leg. It was during this time that her interest began to lean towards EMS and critical care. Within a year of her brother’s accident, she was registered for an EMT class, her first taste of the world she now loves.
Tabitha has a heart for caring for her patients, but also understanding what it feels like to see it through the family’s eyes. She was on scene of my brother’s accident minutes after it happened, and watched the crews care for him and his lift off in the LifeFlight helicopter.
Today, she works for the ambulance service that ran her brother’s call as well as in the Emergency Room at the level one trauma center where he was transported. She feels very blessed by the love that surrounds her, and the incredible crews she works with. She hopes to one day become a flight medic or a flight nurse. One way or another, she will strive to remain in the critical care field, and be a support to the members of her team. Tabitha enjoys being outdoors, spending time with those she works with, and solo road trips with her dog.