Thursday, August 14, 2008

walk of life

We had a paramedic call the other day that really got everyone's blood pressure up. It was a Code Blue - someone down in the field, bystanders frantically doing CPR until the ambulance got there. And that was all we knew. We didn't know where they were or how old or what gender or anything. We didn't know if it was cardiac or an accident or a fall or what. We all did a mental inventory of kids and relatives and friends that were scattered all around town and paced around the radio nervously until more details came in. I feel physically sick at times like this. I instinctively pick up the phone to check on my nearest and dearest, and hope to hell they pick up. We all do it. Until the patient actually arrives and you see a worry.

This is something that I never had to deal with at the Big City Trauma Center, since no one I knew was ever likely to be brought in by the medics there. Of course, if they'd had to have been flown in, I would have had much bigger problems, but that forty mile distance was a nice buffer for my nerves. There is no buffer where I am now. This is not a small town, but at times it feels an awful lot like one. There are days that seem like a non-stop six degrees of separation situation, and that can be really hard.

The coding patient came in in full arrest and died after a balls to the wall effort on everyone's part. The family members huddled together in shock in another room as we all chipped in, helping the primary nurse make him presentable so they could see him. I clicked an ID bracelet onto a lifeless arm, and headed back to my patients. There was nothing left to do.

A little while later I was walking a little old lady around the unit to assess her status before we discharged her. She'd been there for several hours and there had been a constant stream of visitors into her room. She and I made small talk and then she said,

"I think my neighbor was in here today. My husband said our whole street was full of ambulances and fire trucks."

She mentioned his name. He was our Code Blue.

"Is he still here?" she asked. "Do you know why he came in?"

Cursing my good buddy HIPAA yet again, I was trying to think of what to say. And as we turned the corner and walked by the curtained room where his body laid, she looked at me anxiously and said,

"Oh, I hope to god he's gone home."


ciara said...

omgosh that has to be rough when you don't know anything-not knowing if it's someone you know and/or love...and just so sad for the neighbor lady :(

Anonymous said...

This has to be one of the hardest parts of your job. When we had Melanie at the ER, they had to have a lockdown because a stabbing victim died, age 20. They were afraid of the mob gathering outside. Hearing that mother's screams still echo in my head. I'll never forget it, it seemed to go on forever. I so admire you and thank god for people like you.

Maggie May said...

That is a hell of a worry. not an easy job.

Frances said...

your job is just like punches to the gut on a daily basis. Dunno how you survive, but thank god you do.

laurie said...

i'm reading a book that's being published this fall--it's a memoir written by an east coast ER doctor. his stories are very similar to yours (minus Gumby and Surfer Dude, of course). i'm reading it in galleys and after i write my review i'm going to send it to you.

not because i think you need even MORE er stories.

but because i think you could write a book, too. you have lots of stories. and they're all poignant.

Akelamalu said...

Oh God, I know I've said it before but I just don't know how you do it day after day. :(

Iota said...

How do you stay normal, dealing with all this kind of stuff day to day? I have the hugest respect.

Rudee said...

You're right, not knowing is the hard part of working in a community hospital. It does happen in big ones though too.

I remember taking care of a transplant recipient. One night, he was the recipient of a new kidney that in the morning had been working in one of our transplant OR nurses. She died of a cerebral aneurysm in the OR while working. It was all very sad.

ExpatKat said...

You are amazing. I don't know how you do it!

Irene said...

Yes, and what do you say then? How do you handle such a situation? We should all be tough broads talking to other tough broads, shouldn't we? The kind that can handle bad news and still stand up straight and not end up bawling on someone's shoulder. I sure try my darnedest. I hope you are too.

aims said...

OMG! Really - how do you do it?