Dr. Tony Carnevale

Regional Chief of Emergency Services for Kaiser Permanente Northwest (works out of Kaiser Sunnyside Medical Center)

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Image: Daniel Root

We don’t get a ton of trauma here. Slim pickings for that kind of stuff. In this ER, it’s chest pain, abdominal pain, shortness of breath, low-level car accidents. I can’t always remember patients’ names, necessarily. But give me the condition and the room, and I can tell you about them. I remember a patient in Room 1 about four years ago. She had ovarian cancer. She was only in her 50s. She had been on hospice care, so you knew she was going to die. Her cancer was metastatic, and she had a lot of fluid in her lungs. It was a total-body shutdown. The plan was for her to die at home. But she was having so much pain, so much difficulty—she was struggling for breath and she was brought to the ER. Her family was with her, her husband, her brother. They knew the end was there. I gave her some morphine to get her symptoms under control and make her a little more comfortable. But her pain was still there. And she told me, ‘I want to see a priest.’ I had never had that request before. But that’s what she wanted, so that’s what I needed to do. It’s not always just about medical care—it’s about what a patient needs. This lady didn’t need a breathing tube or something; what she needed was a priest. Luckily, a priest from nearby was able to come in quickly. It took about five minutes to do the last rites and a blessing. He was barely out the door, and she died. And it was just peaceful. That’s what she needed to be able to let go. —As told to Brian Barker