Tuesday, April 3, 2012

What Does Daddy Do All Night?

My Code Cart at-the-ready.
Another long, eventless night shift at my local, small town 30 bed hospital. I performed one xray on an ER patient and one CT Scan on a patient in ICU...that's it...for seven hours.  I had eaten dinner to pass the time and spoke to a few friends within the hospital.  My thoughts had begun to narrow down the path of how many hours were left in my 12 hour shift and how long until I'm back home with my family.

A little after 2 am, the all-too-familiar "Code Blue" rang out over our intercom system.  These night shift codes mean two things in my Radiology world: will the patient need a Radiology exam to solve the mystery of their code and how long will I be able to do chest compression this time?

You see, more often than not, I'm one of three men on the night shift in the entire hospital.  At 6'3" and 270 pounds, it's encumbant upon me to do the compressions.  Our ER Physicians are usually male but they are too busy conducting the code and only do chest compressions if absolutely necessary. Security guards are always male but never assist in codes.  They are present but uninvolved.

Luckily, there is one male LPN on duty tonight to share the task.  So I do what I am trained to do.  I step up on that step stool and position my clasped hands just above the tip of the sternum.  Whatever sleepiness that had settled in during my uneventful evening was now flushed away with a sea of adrenaline. I begin to throw all my weight into compressing this man's rib cage as I repeatedly check his pulse rate on the monitor. Too slow or too shallow and I'm not circulating enough blood.

I quickly feel the unmistakeable snapping of ribs.  My instant reaction is to let off the pressure but I know what has to be done.  I continue to pound away while the doctor and nurses scramble with heart stimulating drugs and paddle shocks. Minutes seem like hours as I stare into his eyes, hoping to see a glimmer of consciousness. 15 minutes...25 minutes...35 minutes...

My triceps have all but locked up.  My pectorals are screaming and one bead of sweat runs down my hot, red face.  "I've got to get to the gym or this is going to be me someday," I think to myself.  The doctor calls for a pulse.  I step back and watch hands palpating for pulses on both sides of the groin and neck.  All eyes are on the monitor.

And there it is.

That weak blip. That electric signal that indicates a pulse is present on this ashen gray elderly gentleman. "Hot damn...we did it!"  His heart is chemically dependent to keep running but he's alive.  You may ask why?  I don't.  I just do my job.

I go wait at the front of the hospital for the family to arrive.  They live nearby and are there within minutes of me posting guard out front. I escort them back to the ICU. Our doctor explains everything that has happened and walks them into the patient's room.

A grief-stricken middle aged daughter weeps by the bedside.  The way she sobs when she says "Daddy" makes my eyes tear up.  After a few words, her husband says to her "I have your brother on the phone." She takes the phone, holds it to Daddy's ear and says "Talk to him John. The phone is by his ear."

Over the cell phone's external speaker we can all hear John's crackling, sobbing voice as he tells his Dad he loves him. "Hang in there Dad...I love you Dad."  And the old man's mouth began to move.

"He can hear you John! His lips are moving! Keep talking!" the daughter said as she wept. I watched one more time as John's emotional voice lept from that cell phone and coaxed motion from the old man. A father gets to hear his children one more time as they tell him they love him.

That's all I need to hear.  I turn and walk back to my department.  I sit in my old, uncomfortable department chair and look at my watch.  I get to see MY children in two hours.  They might not understand why Daddy works all night but on THIS particular night, I know EXACTLY why.