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End of Shift: Just Another Code

A code is called. It’s the woman in Room 11.

A day earlier, the paramedics found her lying like a rag doll in a man’s lap. Shocks and medication refocused her heart’s energy. She was whisked to the ED and then transferred to intensive care.

Now a team of nurses and physicians stream in, prepared to wage war against the fate of man, or to some, the will of God.

“Who is she?” a physician asks.

But this woman’s identity – her goodness and compassion – is of no concern. The coat she put over a homeless man one frigid February night exerts no reciprocal burden upon the universe. And her humanity is not the currency for which life can now be redeemed.

In these moments, only the mechanics of things are honored.

In the waiting room sits a man. Wearily, he closes his eyes, and he’s back in his favorite chair. He drifts off to the sounds of a woman preparing a meal. The aroma of memories revives her smile and the deep mysteries within her eyes. Fifty years of embraces and secrets. Fifty years discovering the essence of being, the power of tethered hearts.

An overhead page barks out, bleeding his memory.

Drugs are pushed, catheters placed. The hall bulges with those eager to glimpse the “drama” of their calling. Compressions convulse the body. Fluids fill translucent veins.

We see and touch the woman, but she is not there. She is off dressing dolls and chasing first snowflakes. Off molding perfect sand feet on the beach with her lover. Off kissing the scented foreheads of sleeping babies.

Family members discuss miracles. They invoke the name of a compassionate God and speak of prayer and grand designs. The room echoes with enough distilled optimism to change the course of a river.

After 25 minutes, the physician terminates the code.

Silence shrouds the room.

The vapors of life rise unnoticed.

The nurse approaches the man in the waiting room. He searches her face for possibilities but finds only resignation. He cries out to some divine power to rewind a life. The family embraces the man with love made complete by the man and the woman.

We clean and restore modesty to the woman’s body. When the family steps in, we close the heavy glass door. The rise and fall of sobbing seeps into the interior of the unit.

Soon, the floor will gleam, the linen will be changed, and fresh tubing will be coiled around suction canisters.

And a woman will be dancing in a man’s dream.


Mark Stambovsky, RN, MSN, is a staff nurse at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Mass.

By | 2018-01-19T16:25:43-05:00 May 23rd, 2011|Categories: Nurses stories|1 Comment

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    Lynn September 18, 2016 at 2:04 pm - Reply

    A beautiful appreciation of life. Thoughts worthy of a human. When did simple humanity go by the wayside?

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