Running out of time

Throughout my medical training, the worst mental health experience I had at the hospital is something that I associate with a clock. 

I was on duty at night, doing a nightshift with a senior doctor. It was in the intensive care unit. 

The night was rather calm, but then, at around 11 pm, a nurse told us that something was wrong with a patient. The patient in question was supposed to be discharged the next day. He was having dinner with his wife, and he had a stroke. He started vomiting a lot, and it got into his lungs, and his heart stopped beating. He couldn’t breathe anymore.

I think that it’s the most intense moment I’ve had at the hospital so far. Everything was so chaotic. The doctors and nurses were running everywhere. At first, I didn’t really know what to do. I was standing there, and then I thought, alright, I have to write the time down, to document everything. There was this round clock with a dark blue frame.

We started doing cardiac massages. While doing it, I was just looking at the clock over and over again. It became a source of anxiety. Every minute that passed that he didn’t wake up meant getting closer to losing him. Moreover, I had to check the clock all the time because every 5 minutes, we had to stop the cardiac massage to do heart ultrasounds. And every 5 minutes, we needed to do the adrenaline injections.

Everything was so time-restricted, and I remember just looking at that round clock. That clock was very important during this entire experience. I think that looking at it so much helped me distance myself emotionally. We have all these protocols that we learn and have to apply, and a lot of them have to do with time. In that moment, two things were happening: one was, we’re running out of time to give this person a chance. Two was, we have to do all these things, the cardiac massage for 2 minutes, then change with someone else, stop every few minutes to check the heartbeats. The clock was part of this whole protocol. It helped me stay focus on trying to save the patient, and on doing what I had to do. I could not think about my own emotions in that moment. 

At the end of everything, the chef of the reanimation unit kind of said, “alright guys, you’ve tried your best. It’s been 30 minutes, and it’s not working out. It doesn’t look like his heart is going to start beating again anytime soon. We have to stop now.” And the doctor looks at the clock, and we all look at the clock, and he says, “time of death, 11:37.” Everything went quiet. A lot of emotions were going through my mind, that I didn’t quite understand. I think that it was a lot of regret, anger, and anxiety perhaps. It’s hard emotionally to process all of this. It was my first time doing cardiac massages and seeing something like this.

But then, I had to announce it to his wife. It was so late at night, I stayed with her 2-3 hours to make sure that she was processing it correctly, that she wasn’t going to do something stupid. She talked to me about her kids. It was very hard. I was also very tired and drained, and it was all starting to hit me. I kept looking at the time, because it was so late and I was wondering when I’ll be able to sleep and process it all myself. 

After a while, one of the nurses came to me and sat down with me, and said that we did our best, that we gave the patient the best chance that he had. He told me that it was going to be hard to fall asleep in the next few days, which is normal. And that these feelings will never leave us, but that’s a good thing, because it’s what makes us human.

It was very heavy. It weighed heavily on me, and it still does. Even if I knew I did everything right, I couldn’t help but feel that way. It’s like, that person was alive, and breathing, and eating a few moments ago, and now they’re not. For a few days I had a very hard time sleeping. I get choked up when talking about it, even now. It took me a while to not think about it all the time. I say ‘not think about it’ and not ‘forget,’ because I’ll never forget about it. 

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