Code Blue - Suppressed Emotions - Mom

As if it were yesterday I can remember what it was like, not specifically the faces, but more the emotions of the event.  During the late 1980’s I worked as a hospital pharmacist in a small community hospital in Northern California.  At the time, both of my parents were still alive, living in a cute little house three blocks away from the hospital.  

Weekend coverage at this hospital, at the time, was rotated between the two staff pharmacists.  We would cover the shift, with the help of two technicians, from 8am to 4:30pm and then give the charge nurse our phone number if there were any issues that came up overnight.  It was not a large hospital, with only four intensive care unit (ICU) beds, 20 acute care beds and a 50 bed skilled nursing unit. 

Mom was no stranger to the hospital, with two heart valve replacement surgeries and multiple bowel resections over her last 20 years.   With mom being a frequent flyer to the local community hospital, it was not uncommon for me to be the pharmacist on duty for the weekend while mom happened to be an inpatient in the hospital for one reason or another.

This particular weekend, Mom was in the ICU following a surgery, when I heard the announcement over the intercom system “Code Blue, ICU”.  At the time I was 26 years old and had attended and participated in many Code Blue events, so I didn’t think twice.  I grabbed my 1989 calculator and got myself down to the ICU in a hurry.

Upon entering the unit, there was my 70+ year old mother, with her gown striped off and a nurse leaning over her side administering chest compressions.  The scene was like any other Code Blue event, with three nurses, the physician who just happened to be in the ICU at the time, the anesthesiologist who happened to be on his Saturday afternoon pain rounds, and the respiratory therapist called away from administering a breathing treatment. 

The difference this time; this was my mother. 

The first step was to pull the emergency medication tray out of the crash cart.  I was pulling the plastic off of the tray in preparation of the first medication order when the anesthesiologist looked my way and said, “Should he be in here”?  I was quick to reply, “I’m good”, and that’s all that was said.

Who else was going to do this, I thought.  I am the pharmacist on duty; I am the one who knows where everything is, the dosing calculations, and how to mix the medications.  The Code went on for 30 minutes or more.  Mom was stabilized; however, it was not easy.  After a few days she was discharged home and life, as she knew it, went back to normal.

I was young and not prepared for how this process would affect me.  The moment I said “I’m good”, I unknowingly made an agreement with myself to treat my mother as a patient, as opposed to being present as a loving son. 

At the time, I was unaware of the great effort I employed to suppress the immediate surging emotions.  I was successful at suppressing these emotions and was able to perform appropriately during the crisis.  The challenge was, these emotions were suppressed so firmly, it took years to bring them back up to the surface to be recognized and dealt with in a loving manner.

Yes, my personal situation was a little extreme; however, upon retrospection I have found that my objective behavior may have been a little skewed, to say the least.  I feel confident, had I stepped out of the room, the staff would have managed the emergency medications appropriately. 

Nearly 30 years ago, I can still feel the emotions as if it were yesterday.  We learn lessons throughout our life.  If we are fortunate, at some point we are able to take the meaning from the lesson and place it in our tool box.  When difficult situations arises, we then take a glance into that tool box and see what lessons we have stored away that may be applied to our current situation.



  1. Comments from the facebook post:

    What a beautiful article. As healthcare workers we are exposed to things that are beyond what the heart can handle. My own stories have no comparison to this, but your vulnerability allows me to go into some of my own moments where I said "I'm good" and later realized I wasn't. Im learning that saying "I'm not good" often is the most courageous thing I can do for myself. Thank you for sharing. I had no idea you went through this.

    Thanks, Steve. I have no words.

    Wow. I love her and miss her all the time. As a student nurse I'm amazed when observing health care providers keeping their emotions in check in difficult situations. I can't imagine what that was like for you with someone you love. Thank you for sharing.

    You have shared this story with me personally and reading it here now gives it even more impact... you are amazing. Showing up the way you did and your openness and honesty around how that impacted you is at the core of who you are... I love this about you~

    Beautifully said Steve

    Thank you for sharing this story. In a few days it will be five years since my mom left us. I took care of her for three years at the end, and there were many scary events. I thought that spending a decade as a hospice worker would equip me, but there is a very real difference between a hospice resident you've just met (and know--in advance-- is potentially going to die soon) and family and loved ones. I thought I was a "grief expert," I taught workshops about grief. Then dad died, 15 years ago in January. I. Was. NOT. Prepared. And, I found that I knew NOTHING about real grief and the wide swath of emotions that cut across your life and back again. And again. We just put it in a box in our mental storage and, every once in awhile, we take out the box and open it and the grief is fresh again. You have to do grief or it will do you. Thanks, Steve, and thank you for the help with both of my parents' meds, etc.!

    Great article! “Code blue” still one of the hardest tasks of my daily work

    After spending a career responding to medical emergencies in the fire service, I can relate to going into work mode despite the tragedies we sometimes encountered. We would talk about how difficult it would be to treat a family member or close friend. I appreciate you sharing this Steve.

    Great article you do what you can as you were trained an deal with it later. Thanks for sharing

    I really appreciate your willingness to share this story. With your writing, you do a great job of putting me there with you. Even though I know this story, as I read it, I am really scared that you are about to loose your mom (at your place of work) and I feel a range of emotions. I cannot imagine how hard that must have been for you. Given your age, your dedication to your job and wanting to be there for your mom, how would you ever be able to respond any other way than, “I am good”. The lesson for me is to be the anesthesiologist and tell you that you need to leave. Hopefully, we can size up these situations and take action to help others, even if it might be uncomfortable

    Wow Steve very touching. Being in law enforcement I can relate to going into work mode at difficult scenes; however, fortunately I never came up on a scene where a close friend or family member was involved. I can't fathom how difficult that would be. Hearing your story is touching and a good reminder of how our trials and difficulties in life can shape us. How we respond to those difficult situations has a lasting impact. I like your tool box analogy. Hoping I can use what I learn today and apply it the next time a applicable situation arises. Or maybe help someone else going through a difficult time. Thanks for the thought provoking article.

    Tears while reading this Steve. I know the “mode” you were in, however I have not had to do it with my mother. Thank you for sharing your journey


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