An essay by Peter Bach, M.D.
Twenty years ago, I helped save a man’s life.
I met him in the emergency room of the hospital, just a year after I finished medical school. His cardiac monitor, the first thing I noticed, showed fast and irregular beats with bursts of a messy, wavy rhythm called ventricular tachycardia. His heart was convulsing.
Then I looked at him: a middle-aged man breathing rapidly and lying very still, complaining of belly pain. My first thought was that the blood flowing to his large intestine had clotted off. That explained the symptoms. Soon, if not already, bacteria would start to leak into his bloodstream from his gut. Then he’d become overwhelmingly infected.
My supervisor summed it up a few minutes later, mumbling to me that my patient was in the last hours of his life.