A paramedic gurney flies through the trauma bay carrying an unconscious elderly gentleman. He is already intubated and has a hive of doctors and nurses running alongside, placing intravenous lines and injecting medicine into his blood stream. He’s suffered a serious head injury in a car accident. With every passing minute, blood accumulates in the space above his brain, pressing on vital structures.
It was a cold winter afternoon in 2017, and the patient had been taken to a major regional hospital. When he arrived, the neurosurgeon on call had minutes to counsel the family on the man’s prognosis, and together they needed to decide whether to operate; surgery could save the patient’s life, but it could also commit him to a life dependent on a ventilator and a feeding tube, trapped in a coma or with limited brain function. Sometimes the quality of life matters more than just the presence of it. The challenge is how can doctors and family members make the right decision in these rushed and emotional moments.