Dr. Jason Wheeler began Monday morning walking through the doors of Gaffney Chicago Medical Center and making his usual turn into the emergency department, where he worked. He greeted his fellow co-workers and was greeted by them, with a comment by a nurse that he was needed in three.
He reassured her that he'd be there in a minute.
He boarded an elevator and rode up to the 10th floor.
Upon getting off, he calmly walked to an outside balcony and stepped up onto a ledge, where he looked down at the street and the people walking to and fro.
And then he casually stepped off the balcony.
This all happened in the first 90 seconds of "Monday Mourning," the Chicago Med episode aired on March 16th.
The opening sequence was shocking, stunning, and meant to be that way. I mean, it was an ordinary, casual good-morning sequence, showing someone on his way to his normal duties as an ER resident, ending in his suicide.
Dr. Wheeler had had problems for some time. He drank, and at one point, asked psychiatry resident Sarah Reese for pills and for therapy. She turned him down.
Even in the shock of Dr. Wheeler's suicide, the ER department must go on. After all, people are not going to stop getting sick and getting hurt just so the ER department can grieve. So the staff went about their normal day as best they could, while occasionally stopping to wonder, how could they have missed that something was so wrong with a colleague?
The ER borrowed Dr. Reese, the psychiatry resident (and former ER med student) to help out. During her treatment of a man who'd jumped into an icy river to save a little boy drowning--and who himself suffered a heart attack right after he did so--she asked, what went through your mind?
Dr. Connor Rhodes, heart specialist, overheard that conversation.
Dr. Reese said, he--referring to Dr. Wheeler--came to me for help and I brushed him off.
Dr. Rhodes tries to reassure her, saying, you can't save everyone.
And that's when Dr. Reese replies with, "It's not that I didn't jump in to save him. It's that I didn't even see he was drowning."
Of all of the lines, of all of the scenes of "Monday Mourning", that was the one that hit me. I didn't even see that he was drowning.
We don't see, do we? How many of us see that someone is "drowning" and reach out a lifeline to help?
It's impossible to see if someone is drowning if we're not looking at the water, so to speak. It's also impossible to see if someone is drowning if the drowning person isn't screaming for help, waving their arms, trying to get someone's attention.
While Dr. Reese berated herself for not seeing that Dr. Wheeler was "drowning", she redeemed herself at the end of the episode. She went to the office of Dr. Daniel Charles, head of the psychiatry department, and said, everyone talks to you and you absorb it all like a sponge. How are you doing with all this?
His response: "It was awful."
I've talked off and on (and maybe "on" more that "off") about my own circumstances here. There are times I've felt like I was "drowning". I think I use this blog as a cry for help at times. It's a way that I process things that are happening to me, things that I observe, things that I think and feel. Often, I write "off the cuff" and don't always go back and edit before I hit "publish".
It's tempting to use this episode of Chicago Med as a way to talk about how I often feel I am "drowning". But, unlike Dr. Wheeler, I've been able to get the help I need. For whatever reason, Dr. Wheeler was either unable or unwilling to say the words, "I am drowning. I need help." It's hard, especially in a helping profession like medicine, to say, "I need help." At least one character in "Monday Mourning" made that observation. Asking for help, too often, is perceived as a sign of weakness, like you need a "crutch" to help you. And if you're a helper, why, then, do you need help?
I've been lucky. I have access to medical/psychological help. I see someone twice a month, and I take my meds faithfully. And I have people I talk to.
So, let me ask the question:
Who out there is drowning?
Are you drowning?
And how can I throw you a lifeline?
Just my .04, adjusted for inflation.
(The number for the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. If you're ever drowning, this is a good lifeline to grab onto.)