A patient codes. Almost simultaneously, a multitude of actions are set in motion. When the nurses and therapists at the bedside know each other well, it’s almost like a dance, everyone moving fairly gracefully around each other and the equipment flooding into the room.
Someone watches the monitor, someone makes sure there’s a line and starts one if necessary. Others give meds, record events, defibrillate, bag the patient, do CPR. Someone is sent out to call the doctor.
Once the dance is well established, once we are in the middle of doing everything, someone always throws out the suggestion, almost as though it were an afterthought – “someone needs to go call the family.”
During one code, I was the runner. I didn’t have a specific job; I was just running to get supplies as needed. After I’d run to get suction tubing, more paper to record on, this, that and the other thing, I was just watching and waiting to see if anyone needed anything else. Although what was happening was very sad, I was admiring the dance. Everyone there that day knew each other very well and it was especially graceful. Which is why when the suggestion was uttered, I was the one available to do it.
Would you believe it? After over a decade of being an ICU nurse, I had never before been the one to make The Call to the family. Do I call and be vague? “Hi, this is the hospital and your mom has taken a turn for the worse. You need to come in right now.”
“Oh no! What’s happening? What’s going on there? Is she okay?”
“Just come in.”
I don’t really like that approach. The unknown, in my opinion, is often more stressful than the known, even if it’s bad news. I think the prevailing explanation was that giving someone such awful news would result in them driving to the hospital at break-neck speed, possibly creating a higher chance of getting into an accident due to being so distracted.
I think that chance exists whether the family knows the details or not.
So I told them that their mom had taken a turn for the worse, that she stopped breathing, the nurses and doctors were trying to help her, and they needed to come in right now.
The patient was sick, but as far as I know wasn’t expected to die anytime soon. Still, the family member I spoke with took it better than I had expected. I’m not sure what I was expecting – for them to exclaim “Oh my God,” drop the phone and leave immediately? Hysterical questioning?
In fact, the person I spoke with was so calm that I wasn’t sure I was conveying the gravity of the situation.
“I don’t know if she’s going to survive this. Please come as soon as you can.”
“Okay, we’re coming.”
And thus ended the call.