I will never forget how one day, on call, our team came to an elderly priest who had suffered a heart attack. He was lying on the bed in a dark blue cassock with a small cross in his hands. Objective data indicated cardiogenic shock. His blood pressure was extremely low. The patient was pale, with cold sticky sweat and severe pain.
Outwardly he was absolutely calm and unperturbed. And in this calmness there was no pretension, no falsehood. I was amazed by the first question he asked. He asked: “Have you had a lot of calls? You probably haven’t had lunch yet?” And turning to his wife, he continued: “Masha, pack them something to eat.”
Then, while we were taking a cardiogram, injecting drugs, putting in an IV, calling a specialized resuscitation team “to take care of us,” he asked where we lived and how long it took us to get to work. He asked in a weak voice how many children the paramedic and I had and how old they were. He was concerned about us, interested in us, without showing an ounce of fear while we carried out our work, trying to alleviate his suffering.
He saw our worried faces, his crying wife, and heard the word “heart attack” mentioned when we called a special team. He understood what was happening to him. I was shocked by such self-control. Five minutes later he was gone. This death evoked a strange feeling in me that has not left me to this day, because this is not usually how people die.
Fear paralyzes the will of the sick. They think only about themselves and their condition, paying attention to changes in their body, clinging to the slightest opportunity to live until their last breath. Anything, just to live. It happens in apartments where there is no place for icons and crosses, but where there is a plasma panel TV covering the entire wall, where in the hallway people are asked to put on cellophane shoe covers, despite the serious condition of the patient, and where generally there are last-minute hysterics.
There are moans, tossing and turning in bed, grabbing of hands, looking into everyone's eyes, constantly asking about one’s situation and the prognosis, hoping to see in the doctor’s gaze, voice, and words at least some illusory hope for a miracle of healing. Before falling unconscious, such patients simply wear out their relatives and those around them with their fear. Doctors feel exhausted after such an unsuccessful outcome. But not because they were unable to provide full assistance and save the patient. You feel empty and lost because here, death has defeated man.
The same sorts of patients, defeated by fear, can also be found in places where the walls are hung with icons, the tables are littered with religious literature, lampadas flicker in the twilight everywhere, and instead of the medicines prescribed by doctors, patients drink only holy water, many liters of which can be seen in different containers everywhere in the apartment.
But after the death of that priest, strangely enough, a feeling of quiet joy still lives in me. Death did not win there. And in my memory, when I consider two or three similar cases that I have seen, the question naturally arises: “Death, where is your sting?”
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