Time of Death This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

January 15, 2009
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The first death on your watch isn’t even your fault. You’re just one of the many interns who rush to the bedside when the code is called, peering at the doctors crowding around. As the patient gasps and chokes, you too gasp and choke as each electric shock blasts through the body. The doctors are grim-faced but determined; you hopelessly wonder why they even bother. Again and again the voltage is cranked up, but thunderbolts can only do so much.

The doctor holding the paddles slowly turns away from the flaccid flesh and another quietly asks, “Time of death?” You back away, feeling as if the defibrillator was really meant for you as your heart pounds out its own furious pace. A devastated mother takes your wrist. “Time of death?” she whispers, mis­taking you for a doctor, someone who tried his best to resuscitate her darling daughter, someone who knew what he was doing, someone with guts enough to challenge death. Not a first-year intern who never could remember which number was the systolic for blood pressure, not someone who didn’t even dare to take blood sugar levels.

“I’m so sorry for your loss,” you blurt. “You’ll be able to talk to the doctors inside …,” you mumble, patting the trembling hand. She bites her lip and nods, letting go of the scrubs that you shouldn’t be wearing, the scrubs reserved for those who can save lives, not for those who don’t even know how to gently break death to a loved one.

The third death is similar, only this time you’ve been dragged along for scut work. You’re the one ramming your hands into the sternum, trying to force the fluttering heartbeat into your rhythm. You’re the one leaping out of the way of the defib paddles, jumping back to start compressions again. The patient bottoms out, but after the paddles thunder a third time, you can feel the thump of the heart, tangoing with yours as you collapse against a chair, arms quivering with strain. You shudder with relief. You brought him back. You saved him. You.

The eighteen death is the hardest. That little baby in neo-natal care should never have been forced to live on machines. Each breath is a struggle, and the medications are flowing in a poisonous concentration for such a small body, yet the parents insist on continuing the farce of life. They’re unwilling to bear any grief while their baby boy wheezes and thrashes weakly, seeking comfort but receiving only the hard embrace of a hospital cradle and the groan of machines.

The mother shrieks, “He’s blue! Do something!” After you reach the crib and despair at the readouts, you motion the code team away and beckon to the mother and father.

“The best thing for him is to take him off the machines,” you say.

The dad glares. “You want to kill him.”

They don’t understand the torture they have put him through. “If he even survives a year, he will be severely physically and mentally disabled. For life,” I persist.

The mother moans, “He’s blue! I don’t care. Just save him! Now!”

You nod at the code team, maneuvering yourselves around the tiny crib and pulling off the oxygen mask, trying to fit your large palms against the flimsy baby with his face scrunched up in a silent wail. The heart drugs aren’t having any effect due to the amount of medication already flowing through his body.

“Use the shocker!” the mother wails.

“We can’t!” you snarl, trying to give compressions to a weak chest and an even weaker malformed heart. “Your baby is too small and his heart is deformed! If we do, we’ll kill him!”

The code leader shakes his head. “Time of death ….”


“3:36 p.m.”

The thirty-third death is the best death. You’re the one in charge. If a code is called, you will wield the paddles, call out “Clear!” You have the final say on time of death if it occurs. You won’t let those words pass your lips.

But she smiles at you through her pure white hair. “I’m ready to leave. Are you ready to let me go?”

You sob, throw down the clipboard. “No, Mom! I don’t want you to.”

She still wears the tender smile of years past as her body wastes away and shrivels to a mere fraction of her vitality. “But it’s necessary. I need you to. And you know it.”

“Mom ….”

And she brushes her hand against yours, squeezing it once before closing her eyes. “You’re ready.”

You kiss her cooling cheek then note: “Time of death: 9:12 a.m., Thursday, April 24 ….”

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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This article has 295 comments. Post your own now!

Shipwreck said...
Nov. 26, 2009 at 10:11 pm
Thank you. I have a hard time with doctors but reading this piece reminded me that they are only trying to save lives.
Meyuki said...
Nov. 26, 2009 at 6:33 pm
it was stunning. it's a very bitter sweet story. well crafted
MayaChristine This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Nov. 26, 2009 at 11:28 am
ditto to all the below comments! absolutely amazing, keep up the good work!
Courtney P. said...
Nov. 22, 2009 at 10:35 pm
WOW! That was amazing.
maragrace said...
Nov. 4, 2009 at 7:01 pm
Wow. You know what you're doing with a pen in your hand. There's not really much I can say except to ask you to please keep writing!
i LIIKE BOYS said...
Nov. 4, 2009 at 11:16 am
iDaReToDrEaM13 said...
Nov. 4, 2009 at 9:20 am
Beautiful... absolutely beautiful. Well written... and very truthful... I am young... but studying to be a doctor. And I think you really depict the harshness of saving a life. Good Job.
KMCmusiclvr92 said...
Oct. 13, 2009 at 3:59 pm
This is amazing. You are very sensitive, and know how to put together an awesome story. You are inspiring :]
Rebecca24 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Sept. 15, 2009 at 10:43 pm
That was really touching. Excellent job!
sarah.c This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Aug. 22, 2009 at 5:22 am
the ending was so touching.i didn't expect it to happen at all.
the guy with the face said...
Aug. 17, 2009 at 7:51 pm
good story i liked it alot
that1random said...
Aug. 13, 2009 at 4:23 am
WOW. you an amazing, beautiful writer, you words are simple but the storyine is amazing, it was so sad! and really realistic, if this story wasnt in the fiction section then i would think it was real. u hav real talent!
MorningStar15 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Aug. 2, 2009 at 3:19 am
awwwwwwww is all i can say it was soooo touching and powerful...
lindsey_O said...
Jul. 31, 2009 at 1:56 pm
that was beautiful!! i read it a few weeks ago in the published magizine, and i thought it was amazing! you are really talented :]
crimson.k said...
Jul. 31, 2009 at 1:55 am
wow, so touching, loved this piece so much!
ahmazingshay said...
Jul. 27, 2009 at 11:36 pm
That was soooo sad. I am crying right now...This was one of the most amazing things I have ever read. Its even better than some actual published writers. Most amazing. =)
musicqt327 said...
Jul. 11, 2009 at 2:12 am
wow. that was so sad. u r a rly rly good writter. that was amazing.
Lauren W. said...
Jul. 7, 2009 at 12:15 am
I am so sad. Your writing really moved me. Keep writing!
Alicia L. said...
Jul. 6, 2009 at 1:30 am
oh wow. that was absolutely amazing! good work
gr8gabster2011 said...
Jun. 29, 2009 at 7:04 pm
Nice!:)This is a really moving story. i love that it's told from the doctor's point of view. I've never seen that before
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