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.