The Tree

The husband awakes to an empty bedroom. He reads the note his wife has left him on the kitchen table and then goes out into the backyard and finds her in the backyard at the edge of the woods, hanging from the big tree.

When we arrive, an officer in the driveway tells us they already cut her down and are doing CPR out back, but she is cold and riggored. We still push our stretcher and gear across the wet soft grass.

She is laying on the ground wearing a man’s blue flannel pajamas. There is a deep thin red gash that runs across her throat. I kneel by her head. She is cold and blue, but her jaw is limber as are her fingers. I look at the other medic. We both shake our heads. She’s asystole, but we can’t call this one. Continue CPR. I intubate while the other medic puts in the line. He gives a round of drugs, and then we lift her up onto board, a collar around her neck. It is a hard go doing CPR and pushing the stretcher across the yard.

As we approach the house the husband comes out. I pause the stretcher a moment for him to put his arms around her, kiss her face and crying, tell her he loves her. An officer gently pulls him away and says they have to keep going.

In the ambulance when we are about five minutes out, I patch to the hospital. “Female in cardiac arrest. Found hanging from a tree by her husband. Unknown when she hung herself. She’s cold and blue and asystole, but her body is still limber. No rigor. We have her intubated and have given a round of meds with no response. We’re bringing in her because she’s hypothermic.”

At the hospital, the trauma team waits for us. A member of the team says, “Oh, she’s really cold.”

“She’s not dead till she’s warm and dead,” a doctor says.

“She’s still limber,” I add. “We don’t know how long she was out there. Ten minutes or an hour. There’s quite a chill out there this morning.”

Her rectal temp is a surprising 97.0. I guess she wasn’t out there that long after all. They call the time.

Later I hear she just got out of the psychiatric hospital. She’s been trying to kill herself for ten years. She told her husband once, “One day you’re going to find me hanging from that tree.”

Hell. If my wife ever told me that, I’d cut the damn tree down.


  • fiznat says:

    Jeez.Haven’t you had your share of codes yet? I forgot what I am supposed to do when they come around..

  • Eddie says:

    Got that right. If I have to Jean Claude Van-Damme that tree down, I would!

  • AlisonH says:

    As someone whose ex-sister-in-law is mentally ill, whom I keep hoping never to hear news like that about but fear I will, trust me, your patient would just have found another way. And her husband knew it. I’m sorry that you had to deal with it too, and I’m sorry most of all for her husband.

  • uphilldowndale says:

    you can take away the tree but not the forest

  • PC says:

    Thanks for the comments — all very true.Fiznat – I have had quite a streak lately, but like everything, its cyclical.

  • Anonymous says:

    Mate, you make my day! I was a medic in Cali and now work in Australia. I love reading your post and only wish I could write as good as you. Keep up the good work and keep amusing us!!!

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