A physician remembers his first patient of the new millenium

It was January 1, 2000, and I was an intern in emergency medicine at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

I had gone to sleep the night before listening to celebratory fireworks and congratulating myself for surviving Y2K.  Now I was walking into the emergency department of our large, level 1 trauma center where I was furthering my medical training.  Like most urban ERs, this one was a busy place filled with the sights and sounds of the organized medical chaos that occurs in these locations, and I was a young trainee, six months out of medical school and reveling in the opportunity I had to learn the skills of my trade.

As soon as I walked through the door I was assigned my first patient.

“Hey, Bledsoe,” said my chief, “go into room one and sew up that patient’s thumb.”

I made my way into the room and found a middle-aged woman sitting on the stretcher.  She had a large laceration to one of her thumbs.  She was quiet, and sniffling a bit, an emotive state that I assumed was from the pain and shock of receiving a significant cut.  We exchanged pleasantries and I began to close the wound.

During the course of the procedure I made small talk with her.

“How’d you get cut?” I asked.

“My husband,” she replied in a very matter-of-fact manner.  She didn’t seem too eager to discuss the situation so I avoided it and talked about other things.

When I was finished she thanked me, and I said something about hoping the rest of her year turned out better than her first day.

She didn’t reply.

I left her room and made my way back to where my chief was working on some charts.  En route I happened to pass by the large trauma rooms in our ER where we resuscitated our most ill and critical patients.  From the doorway I could see a body lying on the resuscitation table covered by a sheet.

“Did you get the thumb closed?,” my chief asked me.

“Yeah, I did,” I replied.

Curious about the body in the trauma room I couldn’t help asking, “Who’s the guy in there?”

“Oh, him?  That’s her husband.  He came at her with a clever but she got him with an icepick right to the heart. He was dead when he got here,” he said.

If I ever had doubts about the depths of the problems in our society, they ended that morning.  My first patient of the new century was a woman who killed her own husband with an icepick to the heart.  By all accounts it was an act of self-defense — so I wasn’t blaming my patient for doing what she had to do to protect herself — but it did serve as a memorable testimony to this young physician of the level of dysfunction we had in our society.

Gregory Bledsoe is an emergency physician who blogs at GH Bledsoe.

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  • ninguem

    I was worried my pen might not be Y2K compatible.

  • EmilyAnon

    Wow, what an introduction to the new millennium for a new doctor. I wonder how you would have handled yourself with this patient if you had known beforehand of her deed, maybe leave the door open or something. But I’m sure now with all the ER years under your belt, nothing shocks you anymore.

  • querywoman

    You never know the full story behind it. Years ago, in my current apartment lot, I encountered a guy with a bleeding hand. I asked him what happened. He said something like, “my m-effing wife.”
    Then I stopped caring. I wondered what he had done to her.

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