My first code

A real code deviates from what they depict in medical dramas like Grey’s Anatomy. Television chest compressions are usually too slow and superficial – they are nowhere near forceful enough to sustain blood flow throughout the body. There is no foreboding soundtrack to hint at what’s coming – only the numbers that appear on the monitor that suddenly dip in the wrong direction.

Although I understood the magnitude of the situation as it unraveled before me, the monitor deceived me into believing that our fluid and pharmacologic interventions were enough. I watched the numbers bounce around, then steady at a reasonable value. They sat there for a short stint, before starting a slow descent.

I felt the air in the room change.

Everything moved faster, except time. The seconds dragged on as I watched more people filter into the room. More supplies were requested. More fluids and drugs were administered. Everyone’s motions were hurried and purposeful as I stood at the end of the table with my hands together.

I remember watching everything but not really hearing it all. There were orders being called and more groups assembled to assist, but I processed it like a silent movie. Everything was surreal up until I saw that chest compressions had begun. The stoic, lighthearted facial expressions that the room started with had all faded into concerned, determined ones.

I notice the time – only minutes have passed.

Shocks were administered between bouts of compressions. Indeed, they do call out “All clear” prior to defibrillation [Grey’s got that right]. Abruptly, all the hands abandon the patient for a split second as the body receives a jolt. Everyone resumes their work immediately.

I study the compressions – they are exactly as we were taught: at least 100/minute with 2 inches of depth. There are three people switching off, but they look tired. To my left, someone asks, “Have you done compressions before?” I slowly nod my head and am nudged to assist.

The individual doing CPR looks relieved as I step forward. During the administration of a shock, we quickly switch positions. My heart raced and adrenaline coursed through my vessels as I stepped up toward the patient. At that moment, it was as if someone else took over my body – I felt myself approaching the patient, but then I saw myself rhythmically pumping the chest. Everyone continued to work around me, but all I really registered was the patient and my motions.

It seemed like I had been giving compressions for at least five minutes before someone else took over; in reality, it was only a minute or two. The motion really wipes you out – I stepped back breathing like I had just run my fastest mile. My second round of compressions was tough, but I pushed on.

The code continues to run. After what seems like hours, it comes to a close.

In medicine, we fight time and nature with tests, drugs and surgeries. Over the years, we have been successful in extending life, however, we haven’t discovered a magic formula to live forever. The reality is that sometimes we delay nature’s course, but there is no stopping the inevitable.

Every single day of life should be lived to the fullest – even if external forces put up road blocks, we need to realize that they are temporary and sometimes out of our control.

I have wasted a lot of time and generated a hefty amount of cortisol worrying about things that I cannot predict or change the course of. But this, and the events of the last week, have shown me the importance of letting go. Not to say that I’m going to forget this patient or the experience – they will undoubtedly stay with me forever – but there is a stark contrast between healthy reflection and incessant “what ifs.” I wasn’t responsible for this code, but someday I will run one and if I continue down the path that I’m on, I will never be able to move on from nit-picking at details for years on end or forgiving myself for things that I could not alter, nor foresee.

I need to change.

I don’t expect a sudden personality shift, but I’m working slowly toward peace – as corny as this sounds, I think it’ll do me [mind & body] a lot of good.

Wish me luck moving forward.

10 thoughts on “My first code

  • July 13, 2012 at 4:37 am

    Looking for peace you say? Have I tried to push yoga as a panacea on ya yet 😀 ?

    Seriously though, that stuff is great. If you don’t have time to go to a studio, I highly recommend picking up a book that delves into the philosophy/spirituality of it. My favorite has been “Yoga and The Quest for The True Self” by Stephen Cope.

  • July 13, 2012 at 8:50 pm

    This was definitely worth being excited for. Being “CPR Certified” probably doesn’t exactly prepare a person for what you just described… I can’t even imagine how intense that scene was. Thanks for the awesome post!

  • July 13, 2012 at 9:45 pm

    Hi Amanda,
    I know how you feel. I have worked as an EMT for two years now, and I still feel shaken every time something like that happens. But for us on the field it’s worst, a lot of times we just have the basics with us- a BVM, AED and only a pair of hands.

    But like you said, there is no stopping the inevitable. So what I learned from my experience is that self-reflection and a little worrying is the road to acceptance. When something happens to a patient on my watch I always look back at what I did and try to reflect in what ways I could’he handled the situation better. It makes me feel better when I realize I learned something and will be better at handling the situation next time. Also, once one of my friends told me: when someones heart stops and you cause it to beat again-it’s a miracle. When resuscitation doesn’t work, its not your fault because the heart already stopped beating.

    I hope this helps.
    And I really enjoy reading your blog!

  • July 16, 2012 at 11:44 am

    I believe you have tried to push yoga and I can happily report that I’m trying it a couple of times a week now. Hopefully when the school year starts up, I’ll be hitting the Rec center’s yoga class, too.

    Thanks for the book recommendation! I’ll have to pick it up sometime. =)

    I hope Chicago is treating you well! Sometime I’ll have to go visit you… I miss hanging out in the city!

  • July 16, 2012 at 11:45 am

    Yeah training doesn’t do the real thing justice – however, they definitely teach you well in the course so I felt ready for the situation.

  • July 16, 2012 at 11:46 am

    Hi Ella,

    I couldn’t imagine how difficult it would be out in the field. It takes a lot of guts to be an EMT.

    Your words definitely helped – thank you.

  • July 26, 2012 at 10:19 pm

    Love your blog! Anxiously waiting for more posts!

  • July 27, 2012 at 7:56 pm

    Hey Amanda!! I know you’re busy, just wanted to let you know that I love the blog and can’t wait till your next entry.I check everyday lol! Take care!

  • August 1, 2012 at 6:57 pm

    Thanks! I hope you’re not waiting *too* anxiously… my post frequency may be minimal as M2 starts up.

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