“Write something, even if it's just a suicide note. — Gore Vidal
When I attempted suicide last year, in March of 2014, I didn’t write a suicide note even though I am a writer. Instead, after I took the overdose, I stumbled back to my bedroom, collapsed into a tangle of blankets and sheets and sobbed as I murmured goodbyes to my cat, Zoe. I closed my eyes and stroked her soft fur with one hand as I waited patiently to die.
“On-Call” by Sneha Mantri which appeared in the Fall 2011 issue Intima describes the author’s experience at a code early in her medicine rotation. After thirty-five minutes of CPR, the patient was pronounced dead. It was the author’s first code.
Life and death. He died, I lived. After several hours when I realized I was still alive I took myself to the emergency room. I was feeling quite ill. I heard the nurse say, “She has to be on a heart monitor.” The doctor told me, “Your heart rate is very fast and your blood pressure is very low.” Although I had just tried to kill myself, I was afraid I was going to die.
As I read Dr. Mantri’s description of the activity during the code a vision came to mind. A neat line of doctors, all shapes and sizes waiting to perform CPR on this massive patient who lies motionless. Flesh hanging over the edge of the gurney. One by one, a doctor steps up and pumps the man’s chest until she is spent. Then she steps down and the next one arrives to take her place. Precision. Order unfolding within chaos. Science at its best.
I pictured the moment I stepped onto the floor of the psychiatric unit where I was sent once my vital signs stabilized several days later. Pure chaos. Order was nowhere to be found. Patients screaming. Noise bounced off every puke-green colored wall. Psychiatrists and patients huddled together in corners talking earnestly surrounded by commotion. The psychiatrists spoke encouragingly to me. No science, it seemed. No beeping monitors, no defibrillator machines. In this hospital, the medicine was more of an art than a science.
After the code, the line of doctors broke rank and returned to the various parts of the hospital where they belonged. Outwardly, calm appeared to have been restored. Dr. Mantri gazes out the open window at the snow. I didn’t get the sense that her psyche was at peace.
After my stay in the psychiatric hospital, mind calmed, I was allowed to go home. Where I belonged.
Andrea Rosenhaft is a licensed clinical social worker, who practices at an outpatient mental health clinic in New York City. She writes primarily on the topic of mental illness and recovery and has published in various literary journals and anthologies. Read her piece, “Eight Months After a Suicide Attempt” in the Spring 2015 Intima.