“My Worst Shift” -A Father’s Day Reflection on the Fragility of Life During This Pandemic!

(An Emergency Physician’s Father’s Day Reflection- Showing the Fragility and Importance of Life During This Pandemic and the Need for Healthcare Workers to Take Care of Themselves.)

“Health care teaches us the value of life. How fragile life can be.” – Dr. Winston Tripp

It was one of my darkest days I have ever worked. It was Father’s Day and I hated working on Father’s Day. I hated being away from my family on a day where I was supposed to be at home. I was working the evening shift when the ambulance called the hospital telling us they had a cardiac arrest. When the ambulance arrived, they quickly wheeled the lifeless body of a man in his early 50s into the resuscitation bay.

There is a whirlwind of activity that occurs when a “Code Blue” comes to the emergency department. There are several nurses, radiology staff, pharmacy staff, security, and the chaplain. As soon as he hits the door a breathing tube is placed into his lungs so that we can deliver him the maximum amount of oxygen possible. Chest compressions are performed by the paramedic, then a student, then a nurse, and then anyone else who can provide relief when the person doing compressions can no longer go on. Drugs are given in his IV, extremely potent drugs whose sole purpose is to get that heart, that irreplaceable pump that brings life to our organs to start beating again.

We have been working on him for 20 minutes and nothing seems to be working. There is no activity on the cardiac monitor. He is flat line; asystolic. I ask for the ultrasound machine. I squirt the cold jelly onto his chest and see his heart flash up on the screen – nothing. I see that pump that has beat in this man’s chest 80 times a minute, 4,800 times an hour, 115,200 times a day, 42 million times a year, two billion times in this man’s life and now it has stopped. He is pronounced dead at around 6 p.m.

The chaplain comes up to me and tells me there is a wife and two daughters in the family room. You see it was Father’s Day and they had taken dad to Cirque du Soleil. They had planned this special event for him to celebrate. While walking with his wife and daughters surrounding him at the performance, he develops a sudden onset of chest pain. He clutches his chest, turns pale white and falls to the ground. Now it is my job to tell his wife and his daughters ages 19 and 21 that their father has died on the day they were celebrating his title of father and dad. I deliver the news to the family. It does not go well. It never does.

I go back to my office. I sit down in my chair. My partner looks over at me. He tells me to take as long as I need, he has my back and can cover the ED until I pull it together. I wish I am at home hugging my wife and children, telling them how much I love them.

Health care teaches us the value of life. How fragile life can be. This pandemic is yet another reminder that we cannot take life for granted. Resiliency is our ability to adapt to traumatic events that we experience in life. Doing this in a healthy way can enrich our life. Do not let the event define us but let it define who we become. It is important to understand for us to overcome any challenge in life we need to strengthen our relationships with one another.

Who is important to you? Nurture and strengthen those relationships. Take time to care for yourself. Exercise, pray, meditate. Sense the value in what you do and how you have made a difference and continue to make a difference in the lives of others. Know that change is a constant. Look at change as a challenge not a nuisance. Lastly, it is normal to hurt. However, you should not hurt alone. It is imperative you talk about traumatic events with friends, co-workers, loved ones and professionals. In doing so, you/we will overcome this current challenge.

-Dr. Winston Tripp

Emergency Physician- Denver

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