Sometimes, laughter is good medicine. Sometimes, when faced with horrible situations, the only way to deal is to throw up your hands and chuckle.
One month on ICU, I had nothing but nightmare calls. My first call I had four patients code in a row, nearly back to back, and all four expired: four emergencies, four families destroyed, four tense situations full of panic and fear, over 80 minutes of sustained adrenaline with no release, on top of an already busy ICU call night full of septic shock and DKA.
Codes are agonizing. Only about 20-30% of in-hospital codes survive 24 hours, so it's a situation that destined to have a bad outcome. When I first started running codes, I did not save anyone through my first twelve. I was ready to quit residency. I should've gotten at least three of them to come back, if only for a day.
And then there's agonal respirations. During the code, it's a good prognostic sign, but after the code? It's probably the most horrifying physiologic response I can imagine. Every now and then you hear about someone coming back after being the code being stopped, but for the most part, agonal respirations are like a knife in the back.
And it's bad enough to have a patient die, but then facing the family is that much worse. It's like tearing your heart out piece by piece. It's always the same. The wife drives in to the hospital at 3 AM, still in her nightgown, sitting patiently at the nurses station with a cup of disgusting coffee which she can barely hold onto. And to have to tell this poor woman that her husband of 40 years is dead? It makes me nauseous just remembering.
There was another resident in the hospital who helped me through some of the codes, and in the morning before checkout, we reminisced about our terrible night. He loved vasopressin because you can't chase it with epi for five to ten minutes, so that's five minutes you can sit back and think. That doesn't sound like a lot of time, but if you're running the code, five minutes is a lifetime.
"Man, I love vasopressin. Five to ten minutes? That's half the code right there! It's Code Blue cruise control!" We both chuckled. Not that there's anything funny about watching four lives slip through your fingers, or telling four families that their loved ones were dead. It's just that when you have no other protection, nothing to hide behind, all you can do to keep going is to laugh. Because laughing is breathing, and on some days, it takes all the effort in the world to take that next breath.