Good or bad codes/good or bad deaths (Lucia Berlin)

While the staff members think in terms of good or bad codes – how well everyone did what they were supposed to do, whether the patient responded or not – I think in terms of good or bad deaths.

Bad deaths are ones with the manager of a hotel as next of kin, or the cleaning woman who found the stroke victim two weeks later, dying of dehydration. Really bad deaths are when there are several children and in-laws I have called in from somewhere inconvenient and none of them seem to know each other or the dying parent at all. There is nothing to say. They keep talking about arrangements, about having to make arrangements, about who will make arrangements.

Gypsies are good deaths. I think so. . .  the nurses don’t and security guards don’t. There are always dozens of them demanding to be with the dying person, to kiss them and hug them, unplugging and screwing up the TVs and monitors and assorted apparatus. The best thing about gypsy deaths is they never make their kids keep quiet. The adults wail and cry and sob but all the children continue to run around, playing and laughing, without being told they should be sad or respectful.

Good deaths seem to be coincidentally good Codes – the patient responds miraculously to all the life-giving treatment and then just quietly passes away.

From Lucia Berlin’s short story “Emergency Room Notebook, 1977.”

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