Tuesday, January 13, 2009

One Final Prayer

My last two shifts were non stop, but they are two shifts that I will never forgot.

X was accepted as in international transfer five weeks post burn. Although I've seen many patients with his % burn survive, the fact that at five weeks out none of his wounds were closed was not favorable. When X finally arrived in New York at the beginning of December, he was in renal failure, maxed on dopamine and norepinepherine for his blood pressure, thrombocytopenic, in respiratory failure and ventilator dependent, and in septic shock. Additionally a MRI of his brain revealed an acute cerebellar infarct. He had six surgeries for debridment and skin grafting but none of them took as his body was invaded with fungus and bacteria. I took care of him the better half of the last two weeks and grew to know his family well. They halted their lives abroad and moved here to keep vigil at his side. They waited and prayed and waited and prayed and waited and waited and waited and prayed.

In the last two weeks, X grew sicker and sicker. He had showed some signs of improvement early on (return of some kidney function with oliguric output, improved ABG's, improved coagulation, fewer bacteria invading his wounds) but he took a turn for the worst...

Pseudomonas in the sputum, blood, and urine.
Acetinobacter in the sputum.
Candida on the skin and in the blood.
Pulmonary Edema
Acute Renal Failure
Collapsed Lung
20 kilos of fluid overload with edema making him unrecognizable

In those 25 hours of work I administered 8 units of blood, 8 units of FFP, 10 units of platelets but he remained thrombocytopenic.
The ventilator was on 100%FiO2 and he was still lethally acidotic.
He required continuous deep lavage suctioning that involved removing him from the ventilator and breaking PEEP causing his blood pressure to plummet.
He was so unstable we couldn't turn him to put him on dry sheets, yet he was putting out 11 liters a day in bed drainage (yes, we suction and measure this).
He was two days overdue for day #5 post-operative dressing (POD) change.
His eyes were dilated and minimally responsive.
He was maxed out on Dopamine, Levophed, Neosenepherine, and Epinephrine.

I arrived at work on Monday and was partially surprised to find X still alive. The three hours prior to my arrival his blood pressure was resting around 68/40, his heart rate tachycardic in the 110's, and his O2 sat around 73%. The attending physicians held a discussion with the family during the day and I thought they were leading in favor of DNR, but in a desperate twist of fate the father disagreed and said he wanted "every thing possible" to be done.

During the day, the family had kept vigil at the bedside, never more than three visitors at a time. In the middle of report from the day nurse, Xs alarms sounded, his O2 sat was 65%, he needed to suctioned. The day nurse (J) and I went in and prepared to suction. We no sooner finished when his heart rate began to plummet: 110-90-80-75-70-60-55......

J yelled to get some atropine began bagging the patient. I hopped up to begin compressions. In rolled the code cart and so began the code. His venous access lines ( a right internal jugular TLC, a left femoral TLC, and left femoral Aline) were a mass of "spaghetti" coming from the 13 pumps running on either side of his bed; however, when the atropine arrived J started pushing meds, I continued compressions ,and the fellow took over bagging. I felt ribs snap, I saw my artificial compression "V-tach" heart rate on the monitor, my triceps and deltoids tightening with every blow. And then it happened. The mother came running down the hall, stopped in the doorway, and yelled, "Stop! NO More! I'm his mother." We all looked up- all hands off the patient. At this point the attending physician was also in the doorway and he and the fellow clarified with the mother what stopping CPR would mean and verified that this indeed was her wish. With tears streaming down her face, she sobbed, "Yes. Yes." And with that we turned off the pumps and stepped back. I stood there holding the mother as we watched the agonal heart rhythm on the monitor...28, 23, 10, asystole. We checked- no pulse. And he was gone.

The monitor no sooner read asystole and the sister came running back in. She threw herself over her brother and let out a blood curdling scream. The crowds started to dissipate from the room and the fellow, J, and I began to comfort the family. After turning off the monitors and stocking the room with tissues, we all left and let the family grieve. I called the priest. It broke my heart as I watched the father pace frantically outside the room, refusing to set foot inside. After the priest left, I heard a noise coming from the room. I looked up from my paperwork and started walking towards the room...

Oh Dios de quién Único Hijo nos ha otorgado los beneficios de la vida eterna, concédenos la gracia que te pedimos mientras meditamos los Misterios del Mas Santo Rosario de la Bienaventurada Virgen María, debemos imitar lo que contienen y obtener lo que prometen, a través del mismo Cristo Nuestro Señor. Amen.

Over the last two weeks I'd listened to X's family chant prayers at his bedside, but suddenly I was moved. Not overly religious, but still connected to my Catholic roots, I stopped to think about what they were saying.

Let us pray. O God, whose only begotten Son, by His life, death, and resurrection, has purchased for us the rewards of eternal life, grant, we beseech Thee, that meditating upon these mysteries of the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we may imitate what they contain and obtain what they promise, through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen.

Jesus died at 33, their son didn't even make it to 30.

The post mortem care that followed was grueling. It took over 3 hours. Removing the dressings churned my stomach. X's skin was green with infection and textured with fungus. When all was said and done, I called the family in one last time to say good bye. As they kissed him their final goodbyes, I stopped the mother in the doorway and took her hand. I opened her clenched fist and placed something in it. She brought her hand closer to her face and opened her fingers--an ID band. She threw her hands up around my neck and sobbed, "Thank You. Thank You." I may not have been able to save her son, but I sure hope I can preserve his memory.


Anjali said...

That is so horrible. I'm so glad it was you tending to their sons last days.

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