Feet First

“It is much more important to know what sort of a patient has a disease than what sort of a disease a patient has.” - Sir William Osler

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    Tuesday, June 24, 2003
    Sensurround Code Blue

    I had a rather surreal experience in the intensive care unit this evening. I had the unfortunate duty of meeting with a son to explain that his mother was not likely to survive more than a few days (she has a huge colon tumor and is in multi-system organ failure). After that sad interview I sat at the nurses' station to return a page, which I should confess wasn't medical but had come from my sound-system guy.

    As some of you may remember I am in the middle of an ongoing home-improvement project, creating a rec room from the unfinished basement space under my house. Currently, the plans for the house are still in the Purgatory of City Hall awaiting approval, but in a few weeks I expect to be back to full money-hemorrhaging mode. Well, I want to move my TV downstairs, put in some speakers, get a DVD player (I shamefully confess I still don't have one), maybe even TiVo... you get the idea. My architect put me in touch with a guy I'll call Eric who specializes in this sort of thing. Eric called me from his cell phone and I had to get back to him ASAP, so I thought a quiet spot on the far side of the ICU would be just the place. I was wrong:

    As I began to describe what I was looking for in a sound system, one of the patients in the unit went into cardiac arrest. (Not mine.) I found myself putting Eric on hold to answer the phone calls coming into the unit, as the entire nursing staff was crowded into the small patient room running the code. (If you're wondering why I didn't drop the phone and rush to the rescue, this is why. I wasn't needed.) I finally flagged a nurse on break to answer the phone and print out the tape from the cardiac monitor. I then had Eric in one ear, detailing the virtues of surround sound, and medical terms floating in the other ear: "epinephrine... We'll need to get her on the bed board... suction..."

    In the middle of a discussion about satellite TV, I had to clamp my hand over the receiver as the nurse next to me started yelling: "She's in v. tach! V. Tach!" Worse yet, I was starting to giggle. I brought our discussion to a close as the patient's heart rate returned to normal ("for now," as one nurse grimly put it.) It felt like a strange episode of ER.



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