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A Glimpse Into The Fragile Balance Of Life And Death In The ICU

Discussion in 'Hospital' started by The Good Doctor, May 9, 2023.

  1. The Good Doctor

    The Good Doctor Golden Member

    Aug 12, 2020
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    It was a calm and quiet night in the ICU during my rotation when suddenly, the piercing sound of a code blue alarm filled the air. An elderly female patient, 66 years old, had come in earlier with lung clots due to ovarian cancer. She was on the other side of the hospital, and as part of the ICU team, I was tasked along with my attending to immediately go see the patient that was suffering from a heart attack.

    With a kaleidoscope of thoughts racing through my mind, I sprinted across the hospital, my adrenaline pumping forcefully. My heart raced as I reached the elevator and impatiently waited for it to take me to the patient’s room. Upon arrival, I was met with a flurry of people surrounding the patient: the patient’s nurse, two rapid response nurses, the patient’s sister, and a few other staff members I couldn’t quite make out.

    As the team assessed the situation, it became apparent that the patient was experiencing pulseless electrical activity (PEA). My attending put me in charge of running the code, and I quickly sprang into action. I designated one person as the timekeeper, organized a line of staff to take turns performing chest compressions, and ensured that the patient’s nurse prepared epinephrine and other necessary medications.


    The patient regained a weak pulse over 20 times throughout the grueling code, only to have it slip away moments later. Despite numerous rounds of chest compressions and medication, her condition remained dire. We urgently transported her across the hospital to the ICU at my attending’s direction. A team of nurses and staff dashed down the long hallway with the patient’s bed, desperately trying to outrun the literal ticking clock as a nurse continued to give epinephrine pushes.

    I recall feeling my lungs burning as I tried to sprint ahead of them to call the elevator and open the ICU doors. Once inside room 7, we continued administering CPR and even more epinephrine in a desperate attempt to save this woman’s life. With each passing moment, our hopes began to wane.

    After a seemingly endless 20 minutes, the code itself had extended well over an hour. My attending consulted with the patient’s sister and made the difficult decision to halt our efforts. No more medications. No more chest compressions. We could do no more. It was a sobering moment, a heavy weight bearing down upon the shoulders of the entire team.

    A couple of hours later, as the patient remained in the room, her sister was brought in. Her inconsolable crying echoed throughout the dark hallways of the ICU, a haunting reminder of the fragility of life for patients and medical professionals alike. The sobbing reverberated through the air, a visceral representation of the emotional turmoil experienced by family members in such moments.

    The scene of that night will forever be etched in my memory – a vivid snapshot of the highs and lows that are intrinsic to the medical profession. Despite our best efforts, we could not save the patient, and we were all reminded of the delicate balance of life and death that permeates our ICU night shifts. The heartache her sister felt serves as a poignant reminder of why we, as health care providers, must remain diligently devoted to our patients in their most vulnerable and critical moments. And as the sun rose outside the window, it marked the start of a new day filled with hope and uncertainty in the battle against disease, echoing the various elements of the human struggle that defines our experience as medical practitioners.


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