Medically Stable

There’s always a pause in the activities in the nurse’s station when the anonymous voice comes over the loudspeaker urgently summoning the “rapid response team” to a patient’s room. Somewhere in the hospital, a nurse has sensed that a patient has taken a turn for the worse, and has called for help.

Our pulses quicken slightly, our breathing becomes shallow, and there is a brief lull while we wait…the lives of other humans are daily in our hands, and the thought of losing one of them is one that fills us with dread. Nurses are empaths by nature, and we each feel the ghost of a knot forming in our own guts as we intuit what our fellow is currently experiencing. If a few minutes pass and the voice doesn’t return, then we can assume all is well. Often, however, the summons is followed by another, the tension in the voice now palpable, asking for the code team.

This day there had been three rapid response calls over the course of several hours, all to the same patient room. The third was followed within seconds by a code, and we looked at each other soberly. If a rapid response is not followed by a code, we know the patient lived; but when a code is called, we’re left hanging, not knowing the outcome. (They don’t summon the morgue by public address!)

Our moods were further dampened when the hospital’s unofficial information network informed us that this particular patient was a psych patient on a medical unit. As psych nurses, that made the patient one of “ours,” even though we didn’t know who they were.

An hour or so went by, and then another code was called, to the same room, and then, some time later, another. This was beginning to seriously interfere with our level of happiness!

That was when our charge nurse received a phone call from the charge nurse on that other unit, asking for medication advice. Apparently, the patient was purposely hyperventilating to the point of unconsciousness. As soon as he was revived, he’d do it again. Hyperoxemia can be a serious matter, and they couldn’t get him to stop, and they were at their wits’ end, and thought that sedating him a little might help.

We chuckled, our moods lightened now, even feeling a tiny bit of satisfaction at the frustration of the staff on the medical unit trying to deal with the kind of crazy situation we face as a matter of routine.

Our chuckling turned to all-out laughter minutes later when the call came from the doctor saying that the patient was now “medically cleared” for a psych bed and asking when one would be available. “Medically cleared?” the bed manager asked, innocently. “Gee, isn’t that the patient that’s coded three times tonight?”

His frustration was definitely understandable. His solution to the problem, however, was sadly irresponsible. Fortunately, the nurses on the unit had found a better one. The medications apparently did their job, because there were no more codes or calls for rapid response that night.

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