Trau·ma  Junk· ie  ( 'trau-m&  'j&[ng]-kE) n. Slang
  1. One who has an insatiable interest, devotion or addiction to responding and assisting people with serious injury or shock to the body, as from violence or an accident.


Stacks of blue charts lined my desk. A vast amount of paperwork was scattered in every direction, joined by a few ink pens, highlighters, and a pencil. The phone was ringing constantly, in competition with the tones from the call light system to my left. A few visitors gathered in front of me, wanting to know what room their father was admitted to earlier this morning. While trying to direct them to the room, I was approached by nurses who had questions on orders I had checked off. The stack of charts wasn’t becoming any smaller, as completing one chart simply meant a new one was added to my stack.

Amidst all the chaos and calamity, behind that desk sat someone who appeared calm and collected. I’ve learned that even during the busiest moments, losing your cool will not help matters. I kept reminding myself that it was just another day at work. Not all days are like this. Eventually, things will slow down. Eventually.

In what seemed like an ordinary shift, in any ordinary hospital, the operator came over the PA system and spoke those words that no one ever wanted to hear:

“Your attention, please…”
Dear God, please let it be something else. A fire drill? Someone who left their lights on in the parking lot? Dr. Brown, please call extension 4394? If only its not--

“Code Blue, room 4-5-1. Code Blue, room 4-5-1. Code Blue, room 4-5-1.”

In the blink of an eye, everyone stopped what they were doing. I bolted for the Crash Cart as another co-worker grabbed the portable Oxygen tank. Someone lifted the dusty LifePak off the shelf, and we hauled ass to room 451.

In my mind, I’m recalling key points from school:
-Four minutes without oxygen before brain death.
-15:2, compressions to breaths
-Bag at 12 breaths per minute, or a breath about every five seconds. It is okay to count to yourself, no one will notice.

I push the Crash Cart into the room and step outside the door. I’ve been working in hospitals long enough to know that CNAs and Unit Clerks don’t’ have much of a role in a cardiac arrest situation.

As I’m standing outside the room, I can’t help but look inside. Expecting to see an 80-year-old man, someone with children and grandchildren, and his hysterical wife at the bedside, yelling at the staff to save her husband, I’m absolutely shocked at the scene before me. I shake my head a few times to make sure I’m not imagining things, then reality hits.

My stomach sinks. I feel a large lump begin to form in my throat. My palms become sweaty, and I hold back my tears. While staying completely focused on the situation, I try to imagine myself anywhere but here, anywhere but now.

Her long, blonde hair is brushed away from her face by the anesthesiologist who is preparing to intubate. A pulse oximeter was in place over her right index finger-- it didn’t match her other fingers, freshly manicured the night before surgery. I’m thinking over our census in my head. Since I wasn’t doing patient care on this particular day, I knew nothing about this patient. Just then, it hit me--

Jesus Christ. She arrived to our floor earlier this morning following a very simple and very common surgical procedure, a lap chole. A few hours ago, the nurse was working on her discharge papers. The patient decided they wanted to eat lunch before they went home. That is the only reason she was still in the hospital.

She was all of 25 years young, and a nursing student, a semester shy of graduation. Amy had a beautiful daughter who was but a year old, as I’d later learned.

Her father swooped their daughter up and carried her out of the room as more and more people entered to work on his wife.

I can’t imagine what it must have felt like to be in his position. His young wife was being coded, and he hurried down the hall and into the waiting room, placing all of his trust in the medical staff. I remember seeing the look on their daughter’s face. She was terrified and had no idea what was happening. As I stood there outside of her room, I couldn’t help but think of my own daughter, just a year older in a similar situation. It was horrifying and gut-wrenching.

I’ve found myself in this situation more times than I can count. I continued to stand outside the room, feeling completely helpless as nurses and doctors certified in ACLS did everything they could to save Amy’s life. Sure, I’m certified in Basic Life Support, but that was already being done. I remember this being one of the major reasons I wanted to go to school.

I wanted to do more. I wanted to help save a life. I wanted to try. I wanted it more than anything. I was kicking myself that I didn’t go sooner. I was kicking myself for being a first year and working in the capacity of a unit secretary that particular day. Not that I could I could do more than all the fine medical staff, but I still wanted to help.

After a while, I realized the situation was being handled in Amy’s room. I realized there were 3 or 4 other people standing by next to me if the doctor needed them to grab supplies or someone needed relief from chest compressions for a bit. And my thoughts instantly went back to their little girl.

I thought about it for a second longer, then I stopped thinking. Yes, there were patients calling on the call light because their infusion pumps were beeping. A patient next door to Amy wanted someone to give her a sip of water. This was my job during a code. But amongst all the commotion, all of the staff take on different roles…and I figured out what my role was this day.

I walked past the rooms, to the nurses’ station. I continued down the hall, passing the kitchen and the supply room. I walked, and kept walking, all the way to the waiting room. I made eye contact with Amy’s husband, trying to tell him anything without saying a word.

It’s going to be okay? No, that wasn’t appropriate. She’ll make it? No, I couldn’t’ say that either. And before I could think, I opened my mouth.

“Hey, baby girl, what’s your name?”

She didn’t answer. I wasn’t sure that she was talking yet. But I kept talking to her. I was a slight distraction at the most needed moment, as Amy’s husband was completely losing it…and I can’t even blame him. He walked over to the opposite side of the waiting room, looked me directly in the eyes, and whispered the softest “Thank you.”

All I could do was nod. I love kids, and I kept putting myself in his position. I knew I’d want some alone time to process what was happening, and I knew that he was in that waiting room with his little girl, trying to pretend like nothing was wrong. He was trying to distract his daughter, but he needed the distraction more than anyone.

As the baby and I sat there playing on the floor of the waiting room, I could see him praying in the background. He was whispering and I can’t even imagine what he was saying. Begging. Pleaing. Making ammends. Anything for Amy, I imagined him saying at one point.

Not a single code I’ve ever seen has ended well. I try not to think about that. I try to think that everything will be okay, and how much this little one needs her mother. I even caught myself praying silently at one point.

About 15 minutes later, an ICU nurse walked into the waiting room. She pulled Amy’s husband aside.

Oh, no… Oh, no… I can’t do this job. I quit. I can’t. I remember thinking this before she delivered the news. I could only imagine the worst. I could only assume that Amy didn’t make it.

And just then, on that day, something amazing happened. The husband of a 25 year old nursing student followed the charge nurse to the intensive care unit. For some reason, I went along with them. I can’t recall why now.

I stood for a second outside of Amy’s room in ICU. Just a second. Long enough to know that she was intubated. Long enough to know that she was in Sinus Tach. Long enough to know, that she was already breathing against the machine. She had spontaneous respirations.

Long enough to hear the doctor talk to Kevin, Amy’s husband.

“It’s always very rare that someone recovers fully after their heart stops beating and they stop breathing, and it’s still a waiting game at this point, but I anticipate that, if things keep going as they are now, she’ll be off of that breathing machine in anywhere up to a week. We’ll work with her. I think we may have made it there just in the knick of time.”

And with that, I made my way back to my unit. I shuffled around the papers on my desk and started to work through my charts again. This time, I had a smile on my face.
I know I didn’t save a life. I know it was a combination of a huge effort on behalf of every single person working in this hospital that responded to the page. I know that I’m just a CNA.

But I also know that Amy will be okay. And thank God for that.

blog comments powered by Disqus