I can remember the first day I ever saw CPR performed. I was a nursing assistant on a medical floor and had found a patient unresponsive in his room at 5 in the morning. The last time anyone had been in his room was around midnight when I had taken his vitals. The nurse had been in there and met him just before me. Assuming he had been sleeping, we left him alone all night. That moment when I tried to wake him up and he didn’t respond, I had no idea what to do. I ran out of the room and screamed for the nurse. The code team took over and they worked for 40 minutes unsuccessfully. I don’t remember much detail of that day, though I can remember how I felt going home a few hours later. I can remember every one of my patients I have performed CPR on since then.
A few nights ago at the beginning of my shift, I was helping a coworker settle her patient as they arrived from the OR. I was standing by the bed, surrounded by surgeons and anesthesiologists. The nurse of the patient had stepped out of the room to grab a piece of equipment. I was moving the IV pumps off of the bed and onto the pole. As I turned my head I saw the rhythm on the bedside monitor flip: normal sinus rhythm to ventricular fibrillation… VFib. I don’t remember saying anything but I must have yelled because it set everyone into motion. I immediately started CPR. I didn’t pause, didn’t look to anyone for direction, and didn’t back away. I did what almost ten years of experience trains you to do. Respond. Two minutes of CPR complete, defibrillation pads in place, I stopped so we could shock. There was a perfusing rhythm on the screen, a palpable pulse, and a good blood pressure on the Aline.
The attending surgeon arrived and asked what happened at the same time that the code team arrived. That is how fast we saved him…faster than the code team could arrive.
Two minutes in a situation like that feels like 10. It’s hard to gauge time as adrenaline pumps through your body. You lose complete perspective. Two minutes for everyone to gather from different locations throughout the hospital and converge on this one room really is very fast. It’s a realistic time frame considering stairwells, elevators, long hallways, and automatic doors that open only with a badge. Those two minutes however felt like an eternity. Each time I reflect on a situation like this, I feel the juxtaposition of heroics and work. If it was my family member I would consider the response of the nurse heroic. As the nurse; what else am I there for but to do my job?
It used to be that with adrenaline still pumping, hearing my heartbeat in my ears, and feeling my pulse at my fingertips I would still be in the room after CPR: a part of the drama and excitement. Time and experience has changed me. At that moment all I felt was nausea. I left the room and let the doctors talk about what just happened. Let them repeat the story, speculate as to the cause, and pat themselves on the back for saving the life of this precious patient. At that moment: my stomach in knots, my knees weak, and my abs sore I needed to go check on my very precious patients.