Time of Death - 9:02am

My very kind and supportive husband of 2 months is constantly encouraging me to write things down. Over the past year, I’ve been in nursing school and working as a nursing assistant in a hospital, so — naturally — I often come home with stories. Hospital situations can happen quickly, and sometimes you don’t realize how strange or significant those situations are until you recount them later. Telling my husband about my day is a form of reflection on these events, and he — a very enthusiastic and passionate person — reacts in one of three ways: 1) WHAT!! HAHA! 2) His eyes will kind of close and he’ll give a closed-mouth half-smile and a sad nod 3) His eyes will open up really wide and he’ll say, “NAT! You have got to write this down. You’re going to want to remember this in 20 years.” I know he is right, and so this will be my measly effort to start to “write things down”.

I was doing my clinical rotation in the ICU over in Oak Park one morning, taking care of a nice, Spanish-speaking man who was in chronic renal failure and about to start dialysis. I had just helped him to wash his hair with a special kind of cap that’s filled with shampoo. All you have to do is put the cap on, rub the contents around, take it off, and dry with a towel. I had just handed him a comb so he could fix his own hair, when we heard over the intercom: CODE BLUE. INCOMING TO THE EMERGENCY ROOM. CODE BLUE. As a nursing student, I had grown accustomed to hearing announcements like that and then continuing on with my day, allowing more experienced code teams to handle those emergent situations. However, that day, the nurse I was working with grabbed me and two other classmates and said, “Come on, let’s go! Have you ever been in a code before?!”. We looked at each other, terrified, and collectively said, “No.” We were walking quickly toward the elevators. She said, “Alright, well today’s the day. Let’s go. We’ll do compressions.” So the whole way downstairs, I was trying to remember everything I’d learned in my American Heart Association Basic Life Support training. As soon as we walked into the Emergency Room, everything I’d remembered waddled out of my brain.

There he was… an overweight man in his late 40s, lying on the gurney. The medics had begun CPR in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, but there was still no pulse. The nurse who had brought us downstairs hopped up onto the step stool placed next to the gurney and began compressions, telling us how quickly to push down (100 beats per minute) and how hard to push down (this was a big guy, so several inches, allowing for a full recoil). Next, one of my classmates — a strong man who does jiu jitsu regularly — took his turn. As I saw sweat beading on his forehead, I started to panic, thinking: I am next, and I don’t want to mess this up… when it was time for me to start compressions, I had to hop up onto the gurney since I was too short to get any leverage even from standing on the step stool. As soon as I started, I realized how hard it was going to be. After 10 seconds, my arms began to feel the burn. I was trying to respond to commands that were being shouted in my direction… DON’T BEND YOUR ELBOWS! KEEP YOUR ARMS STRAIGHT! GO FASTER! HARDER! FASTER! I felt like I couldn’t go any faster or harder, and I felt so weak. I also felt like I might fall off the gurney any second — there wasn’t very much room up there. After what seemed like 10 minutes, but was closer to 1 minute, I hopped down and another classmate took over. I would say that I did get an adrenaline rush, but I don’t think the adrenaline made me any stronger. As I waited for my next turn, I was handed a syringe filled with epinephrine to administer to the man through his IV. Every so often, everyone would back away from the gurney to administer a shock and check for a pulse. One of the nurses was taking meticulous notes on everything that was happening… who was involved, what medications were administered, exactly when each shock was delivered … there was a lot of commotion in that small room. I took my turn at chest compressions twice more, though the last time I didn’t go for as long because my arms were too exhausted to be effective. After 30 minutes of CPR, everyone backed away from the table, and a nurse checked for a pulse in the man one last time. Then, in a matter-of-fact yet solemn manner, somebody called it.

Time of death: 9:02 am.

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