Authors: Lisa Eugene
Bennett eyed the blinking red light on the desk. The nurse’s call bell barked incessantly, chopping through the silence of the night.
“There’s no way I’m going back in there!
” Susan, another nurse, declared. She planted a hand on her hip. “That patient has been on the bell all night long! It’s two in the morning for God’s sake!”
issued a sigh and rose from her seat in front of the charts she’d been working on. Her gaze traveled down the dark hall that tunneled off from the nurse’s station. Usually at this time of night, most of the patients were asleep and all that would be heard was the intermittent beep of a cardiac monitor or the deep snore of a restless sleeper. Now in the distance, she could see a light wink on and off over Mr. Barkley’s door. He was an elderly patient who’d been admitted for heart monitoring. The red light flashed in rhythm to the noise bullying the quiet night, demanding attention once again.
I’ll go. I think he’s just confused.”
“I’ll say he’s confused. H
e thinks my ass is a squeezy toy!” Susan bristled.
Poor Mr. Barkley is not himself tonight. He seems more disoriented than ever.” Chloe chewed pensively on her bottom lip. The hairs on the back of her neck stood at attention as her gaze lingered down the hall.
She brushed her palms across the front of her white nurse’s unifor
m and made her way to his room, her sturdy shoes thudding on the laminate tiles.
mental status waxed and waned. For a few days he’d been extremely lucid, then his mind slipped between pleasant dementia and foggy reality. Even then, there were times Chloe swore she saw a bead of clarity rolling in his cloudy blue eyes. The bead seemed to condense all the wisdom and knowledge that his eighty-five year old brain had accumulated, and Chloe loved his convoluted stories. Imbedded in those stories was a richness of experience, and the contentment of a life lived well. She’d miss him after he was discharged. Though Mr. Barkley often became overly zealous with the nurses, he was rarely agitated.
frowned, a strange feeling of déjà vu plaguing her. Just two weeks ago, she’d had another patient who’d exhibited the same behavior: acute confusion and agitation. She’d mentioned it to her nursing supervisor, but Nurse Wall hadn’t thought much of it because many of the elderly patients had some baseline dementia. But Chloe knew Mr. Barkley well and tonight he just seemed…off.
open the door to the small room and entered, her heart clenching as she heard Mr. Barkley’s raspy voice yelling in the dark.
Shhh, it’s okay, Mr. Barkley. It’s okay.” She flipped on the soft overhead light and walked swiftly to his bed, something deep inside her responding to the neediness in his voice.
“Who is it? Who…who’s there?” Mr.
Barkley asked, his voice jumping with agitation.
Shhh, it’s okay. It’s me, Chloe, your nurse.”
She watched as his
bushy white brows pulled together. “Thanks for coming to the beach with me. I just fell off my surfboard. I hate when the waves are so rough.”
smiled warmly and placed a hand on Mr. Barkley’s shoulder. “You’re not at the beach, Mr. Barkley.”
brushed back a strand of paper thin, white hair that had fallen over his eyes, thinking wryly that he’d probably been having a good time surfing in his head before his imagined fall. A red cast glazed his eyes, and she wondered if he’d been rubbing them.
Barkley, you’re at the hospital. You’re at Washington Memorial Hospital.”
mind seemed to clear as he bounced his gaze around the room. “Hmmm…yeah. Those waves were rough. Mom told me not to go in today. She wanted me to stay home. She’s waiting for me. I have to go with her.”
and tried to reorient him, hoping to nudge him back to the present.
” she announced with a big smile. “Tomorrow you’ll be returning home!” She eyed the IV bag quickly dripping into the clear tube snaking into his arm.
Barkley pursed his thin lips as his eyes filled with alarm. “No, I won’t. They won’t let me.”
smiled gently, her eyes returning to his restless blue gaze. “Yes. I got your discharge papers today. Your granddaughter is coming to get you in the morning. It’ll be a wonderful day.”
Chloe flinched as his
gnarled hand suddenly grasped her arm, jerking it to a stop as she was about to check the flow of the IV.
I won’t be going home! They won’t let me leave here! I know they won’t!” Mr. Barkley was almost shouting now, his hand clutching tighter, his jagged nails biting into her skin. His eyes became wild and panicked like a cornered animal.
softened her voice, trying not to react to his acute distress. If Mr. Barkley saw that she was upset, it might make him more agitated. Instead, she smiled and placed her other hand comfortingly over the one that had a painful grip on her.
not think about that now, okay? You should really get some rest.” She looked around and whispered, “You need to keep up your strength for surfing.”
At that, Mr.
Barkley’s eyes fogged over and he relaxed his hold on her arm. A dreamy smile pulled at the corner of his lips.
Chloe smiled again, her heart tugging in her chest.
She barely noticed the tiny half-moons his nails had embedded in the pale skin of her forearm.
Her gaze landed on
his blanket that had fallen on the floor, and she turned to pick it up, almost jumping out of her skin when she felt a firm pinch of her rear end.
Barkley!” She turned and waggled an admonishing finger at the elderly man, but her annoyance lost its fervor as she watched a sly smile spread across his lips.
, my ass!
to him while she straightened the cluttered space, telling him how wonderful life would be at home. Mr. Barkley was an active eighty-five year old. From what his family had told her, he loved taking daily walks in the park with his granddaughter, singing old tunes, and going out to the movies.
the blanket into a small square and was about to lay it at his feet when her gaze landed on Mr. Barkley’s face. For a second she stood stock still, her brain fighting with the fear in her accelerating heart.
Barkley!” she yelled. When she got no response, she screamed his name even louder. Rushing forward, she placed a palm on his shoulder and shook him roughly, already tasting the bitter dread leaking onto her tongue.
Barkley’s face was turning a pasty white and the wrinkles in his skin seemed to press flat. One look at his still chest told her his lungs had abandoned their function and he wasn’t breathing. Chloe’s heart bang against her ribcage as she dug a finger into his neck to search for his carotid pulse. Not finding one, she opened her mouth and screamed a Code Blue alarm at the top of her lungs, the sound reverberating through the dark corridors like an agonizing cry.
Code blue! Code blue! Room 405!”
her trembling hands to work, she initiated CPR, trying to suppress the tears stinging the back of her eyes. She watched a tinge of blue cling to her patient’s lips and horror gripped her heart. In seconds the room filled with people. Footsteps were heard running down the previously quiet hall. Sleepy doctors in blue scrubs filed quickly through the door, shouting in her direction, asking questions, and demanding answers.
Someone pushed her aside and took over doing chest compressions w
hile another person pulled Mr. Barkley’s gown away and started attaching colorful wires to his pale, clammy skin. Again Chloe had to step back as medical equipment, a crash cart, the Code Blue team, and young doctors in training flowed towards the bed in a ceaseless wave of bodies.
ne doctor yelled. “How old is this man?”
The question was thrown at Chloe. She blinked rapidly, linking her fingers behind her back to stop her shaking. She felt so cold.
“He…he’s eighty-five,” she replied.
“Are you sure he wants to be resuscitated?”
“Does he have signed orders?” It was her nursing supervisor, Nurse Wall. She skewered Chloe with a beady gaze.
’s head shot up and she stuttered. “Yes…yes. I mean, no...no. He wants everything done. He wants to be resuscitated!” she answered, hating the quiver in her voice. She started attaching the colorful leads of the heart monitor to his chest.
, she saw Susan rush into the room. She handed off some extra supplies, tossed her a sympathetic gaze, and then scurried away, presumably to check on the other patients.
me about this patient!” A voice was directed at her. It was Dr. Wasko, the doctor who’d taken charge.
Chloe almost bit through her bottom lip, but she took a deep breath and
relayed Mr. Barkley’s medical information. She watched in a robotic state of shock as the team worked on Mr. Barkley’s lifeless body. A large liter bag of saline was thrust at her, and she set it up to flow openly into her patient’s IV. She glanced at the noisy monitor failing to get a blood pressure reading, and the flat line on the cardiac screen. Someone continued compressions, while another person pulled his jaws wide and inserted a breathing tube into his throat. Mr. Barkley’s pale body seemed so puny, unresponsive and crowded with busy hands and medical devices.
She watched adept fingers pierce his groin with a long
, ferocious-looking needle, drawing back dark red blood from his artery. Chloe’s stomach twisted and turned as she began to lose faith. The room was a swirling frenzy of chaotic order and the air was stale and oppressive. Doctors shouted orders, medications were handed over, and monitors beeped urgently. Someone yelled “Clear!” and everyone stepped back from the bed. Chloe watched as paddles discharged on Mr. Barkley’s chest and his inert body flopped like a fish. She felt an arm slip around her shoulder and she turned her head as Susan leaned in.
It doesn’t look good.”
Chloe nodded, but
swiped at a tear threatening to fall.
“Are the other patients okay?” she asked weakly.
“Yeah. A little shaken up. They can hear what’s going on, but we’re keeping things calm.”
Chloe saw a movement from the corner by the bathroom. One of the new phlebotomists, Nigel, moved toward the door. He shot her a dazed look, then sadly shook his head, his mouth pulling downward. Her attention was drawn away when Susan leaned in.
“I heard that
Dr. Markson’s been called. He should be here any minute now. He’s just getting out of surgery.” She informed nervously.
Chloe gasped, her eyes growing wide. She
felt her heart rate rev as Susan gave her hand a quick squeeze. Dr. Markson was one of Washington Memorial’s finest cardiac surgeons. He was lauded for making great advances in cardiac surgery at his young age, and was renowned for his expertise in Robotic Coronary Artery Bypass Surgery. He was almost a deity at the hospital. From what Chloe had heard, his colossal ego was the only thing that surpassed his reputed glory. She’d never had the opportunity, thank God, to meet him. Her night shift ended at seven in the morning, just before the surgeons rounded on their patients. She did, however, see the nurses of the oncoming shift sweat nervously whenever they got slated with a patient of his.
“I’m going back outside. You need anything?”
Chloe shook her head, her eyes
glued to the activity on the bed. She watched numbly as the doctor in charge stepped back from Mr. Barkley’s body, shaking his head gravely. A single tear meandered down her cheek.
She braced herself as she watched Dr.
Wasko’s mouth open, ready to pronounce her patient dead. She was just issuing a prayer when a large shadow filled the doorway, distracting her morbid thoughts.
“What the hell is going on here?” The booming voice stirred the air in the room, causing all noise to cease.
Chloe took a step back as the large looming figure stalked quickly to the bed. She held her breath as she watched a man, who could be none other than Dr. Markson, part the sea of bodies to stand over Mr. Barkley. He was yelling now, his voice belting like thunder as he demanded answers. She watched the chiseled lines of his face pull taut as a storm swirled in his dark blue eyes. He shoved aside one doctor and his powerful arms locked tight as he started aggressively pounding on Mr. Barkley’s flaccid body in an attempt to resuscitate him.
He yelled for medications in the process, growling a nasty curse as one doctor’s shaky hands
tarried. Chloe didn’t know why, but as she watched determination sculpt the lines of Dr. Markson’s face, hope started to blossom. Her eyes widened as the cardiac monitor flickered, the staccato beat jostling the glowing flat line, causing doubtful gazes to latch on to it hopefully. For long moments, Dr. Markson worked furiously, but the stubborn line kept lying flat, refusing to jump to life.