Late one night (about 3:00 am), I was on patrol in West Germany, a year before the wall came down. I was making my checks of the local businesses like the Imbiss and kellerbar at the edge of town, when I was asked to respond to the Emergency Room. I was supposed to meet with the charge nurse about a “Request for Assistance”. Upon arrival I discovered that the ER was almost empty. There were no patients in the waiting room and no hospital staff around, the place seemed to be deserted. I walked past the reception area and down the hall. As I passed one empty exam room after another, I began to get nervous. My pace slowed down, I started taking deliberate breaths, I became aware of my noisy foot steps, and I found myself reaching for the gun on my hip. Just then I heard voices from the bathroom back in the waiting room. I quickly turned around and shuffled down the hallway to the bathroom adjacent to the door that I had entered into minutes before. I stepped inside the room only to find the Charge Nurse, LPN, Janitor, Physician’s Assistant, a male patient, and the Ambulance Driver, all hovering over a small cat on the floor.
The cat had been run over by a car and was brought to the ER by the patient who had found it on the side of the road. I wasn’t sure what to do, but I knew that the poor thing was suffering. The Doctor came in and looked at the cat and examined it in the best way he knew how. He said that he could feel internal bleeding and that the cat would probably die in the next few hours. It was having trouble breathing and it was obviously in a lot of pain. We all talked about what needed to be done, nobody wanted it to suffer, but there was nothing else to be done. The patient was almost hysterical as he continued to watch the cat work harder and harder to breathe. By the end of the night we were all pretty sure that he was the one who hit the cat in the first place, but none of us had the heart to mention it out loud.
After about 30 minutes the Nurse suggested that we “put it to sleep”. The doctor agreed, and said that he could inject the cat with enough Morphine to euthanize it, but how would he explain the missing narcotics. There were inventories, prescription logs, and protocols that had to be followed. We looked around the room at each other for several minutes and watched in silence as the cat continued to suffer. Then the doctor looked at the Charge Nurse and said “I’m sorry. I can’t prescribe Narcotics to a Cat… I just can’t.” Then the Nurse looked up and said “What about to one of us…”?
Five minutes later the cat was at rest and I had a brand new entry in my medical records. I’ve never been a big cat-lover and I’m not prone to breaking the law, but there’s something about helplessly watching and waiting for the suffering to stop, that brings out the humanity in anyone who’s human. I can’t justify what was done that night and I can’t verify my story, aside from the inexplicable entry in my medical records which indicates that I was prescribed a significant dose of Morphine for no apparent reason. As it stands, I will never forget the sympathy and compassion that was displayed by half a dozen sleepy strangers at 3:00 am.
Aristotle once said: “The Law is Reason, free from Passion”.
I would suggest that sometimes passion (or compassion), is more than enough reason for circumventing the law.