My interns and residents had been talking for weeks about how bad a code situation is, and so when the patient was found unresponsive in his hospital bed today, I figured it’d be neat to go watch. Neat being my Hollywood, glam and glitz, heroic understanding of a code; terrifying would probably fit better. Yes. I figured it’d be terrifying to go watch.
I was amazed at the scene when I arrived, watching from outside the door. I got there only 10 seconds after the Code 66 had calmly been announced overhead (Code Blue scares patients, I guess), and already 25 people were in the room, with supplies, the crash cart, and it was loud. About 8 people were actively around the patient, with others supporting the 8, while some other people were trying to move the patient in the next bed out of the room. I did my best to stay at the periphery, out of the way, and help out when I could. People were quietly talking about how the patient was found, that he was supposed to be discharged today–and who knows where the rumor mill went from there.
A small woman was doing CPR on the gigantic patient (and luckily soon switched with a much larger male nurse), while others were checking pulses or trying to configure the defibrillator. Interns and residents were trying to start femoral lines, palpating weak pulses that trickled by with each chest compression. Two people were bagging the patient with oxygen. The ICU fellow was calling for meds and thinking aloud (I would soon learn the 5 H’s and 5 T’s), while the intern responsible for the patient was announcing the patient’s morning labs and vital signs (“K was 3.6 this morning! Blood pressure was 110/65!”), all of which were stable and within normal limits. The pharmacist was doling out medications from her kit as fast as they were being called for.
Toward the end, the senior resident responsible for the patient was in tears, and the room grew more quiet, with fewer audible voices drowning out the sounds of the code equipment and the oomph of each chest compression. There were fewer looks at the patient, and more at the clock. The pharmacist announced the passing time. “Four minutes since arrest” became “nine minutes” became “fourteen minutes” became finally “twenty minutes,” and the patient was pronounced dead.
“The key is to stay calm,” my resident told me. I told her I didn’t think I’d ever be calm in a situation like that, and she shared her secret: “I just assume the patient is already dead, and anything I do can only help them.” I think she may be right.