Return of Spontaneous Circulation

7 May

It’s a random shift in the middle of the week, a week I’m barely getting through. But I do my best to sleep all day and prepare for the night shift. I put on my uniform, manage to eat a couple of bites of peanut butter toast, force down a tall cup of coffee, place a cold washrag on my eyes to bring down the puffiness.

“Let’s do this,” I say to the mirror and listen to pump up music on my way to work.

At work, I’m told that I’m floating, which means I don’t have a patient assignment, I’m supposed to go around the department and help out any nurses that are busy. Not ideal for me at the moment as I’m truly looking for something to distract me, to keep my mind busy and away from the cyclical thinking that has been torturing me. But I do my best to find things to do. I see a doctor who is going to be discharging a patient with crutches, and she asks me to come help her apply the splint. We stand outside the patient room while he’s changing out of his hospital gown. She looks at me for a minute before saying…

“Are you pregnant?”
“No, I’m not.” I say loud and angry. I’m a firm believer that unless someone is very very visibly showing (6/7 months at least), you should never ask someone if they’re pregnant. Maybe they’re slouching a bit. Maybe they ate a big lunch. Maybe they’ve been lying in bed crying for days. No matter the case, don’t ask, don’t be an asshole.
“Oh,” she pauses. “But were you recently pregnant?” She had the nerve to double-down on the assertion that I look pregnant.
“Nope. Never been.”

I help her in the room with the patient, and as soon as she seems like she doesn’t need me anymore, I rush out of the room and head straight to the pantry, tears burning in my eyes. One of my co-workers that I’ve become friends with sees and follows me. She knows I’ve been heartbroken lately. I tell her what happened with the doctor, and she comforts me as best she can.

“She’s crazy!” she says. “I would kill to have your figure. You don’t look pregnant at all.”
“I just didn’t need this right now, you know.” I cry as she rubs my back. “I already feel so low, so alone, and I didn’t need this tonight.”

The radio I wear around my neck announces that a cardiac arrest is en route to the hospital. A second or so later, the charge nurse radioes me directly to say the patient will be assigned to me.

“Okay. I’ll be there,” I say as I wipe my tears on a rough paper towel and take a deep breath or two and tell my co-worker thank you, but I guess I have to go do work now. She’s an ER nurse too, she understands.

I run out of the pantry, my eyes still blurry from tears. I throw all my PPE on, the gown, the goggles, the extra face shield, grateful that it can cover my blotchy, mascara stained face to some degree. I run into the resus room as the patient is being wheeled in, a pretty large man who is intubated but the cardiac monitor is not showing activity. The doctor in the room says to start CPR. There are large EMTs present, and they’re usually the ones that do the chest compressions during CPR since it takes a lot of strength and stamina. I see a couple of them rolling up their sleeves. But I know this one is meant for me. I grab the stool, put it beside the patient, elbow my way past my co-workers and start my compressions.

These are the best chest compressions of my life. And unlike other CPR I have performed, I feel like I could keep going indefinitely. I look down at my criss-crossed hands on his chest and lose myself in the beat of “Stayin Alive.” My compressions are deep, even, perfect. I think only about hearts about how there’s one heart out there, somewhere in Brooklyn that I would particularly like to pound on, to beat until it hurts as much as mine. But this one will do, so I just keep going.

After a couple of rounds of CPR and medications, we do a pulse check and find that he has ROSC, return of spontaneous circulation. The meds worked, and he lived. This is rare. This almost never happens. Every time I’ve been in a code and performed CPR, the efforts were futile and the patient didn’t make it. Who knows why this guy did. Maybe he was young enough. Maybe the meds and CPR got to him quick enough. But he lived. It was another hour or two of stabilizing him and preparing him to be shipped off to the ICU.

A week later, I’m at drinks with some friends, going over and over and over my heartbreak, how I feel so confused, so hurt, still so low.

“Anything good happening, though?” one of them kindly jokes.
“I did CPR at work and the patient lived. I’ve never had a patient live before.”
“Woah, that’s incredible. Do you hear yourself?”
“I guess. I did the cardiac compressions. It felt good to pound on a heart like that.”

The last couple of weeks, I keep finding myself saying “There’s gotta be a metaphor in there somewhere.” Weird things that happen, things I notice in nature, the return of spontaneous circulation. What does it all mean? But I guess I’m not supposed to know. Not while I’m deep in the thick of it, trying to keep my head above water. I think the meaning, the metaphors are only supposed to make sense in hindsight. But for the couple of hours where I worked on that patient, did my job as a nurse, all my other problems and heartbreak felt so insignificant and unimportant and weren’t even on my mind. So while I keep thinking of metaphors, maybe it wasn’t that I was trying to push on someone else’s heart, maybe it was my own, maybe it was something about bringing myself back to life.

I don’t know though. Those answers aren’t here yet. I just know that my patient lived, and I guess I will continue to do so as well.

One Response to “Return of Spontaneous Circulation”

  1. Nancy Rowlinson May 8, 2021 at 2:17 pm #

    Hi, Chrissy! We both love your blog. You are quite a writer. Whatever you are going through, we love you!
    A. Nancy

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