By Rachel Salinas
The first code blue that I ever witnessed was called on my grandfather during my third year of medical school. He had been in the ICU for seven weeks after there were unexpected complications during his coronary artery bypass surgery. I remember as the world stood still while the code team worked. I held my grandmother’s hand while every last effort was made to save his life, and I was the one who told the team when it was okay to stop. It was a moment that greatly affected me and has changed my entire approach to medicine.
At the start of this year’s rotations as a third-year medical student, I was taken aback at the number of code blues that were being called each day. One day in particular, I counted over 15 during my 10 hour shift. I asked my resident if this was normal, and all she could do was shake her head. My small community became a hotspot for COVID-19 in September of this year. Slowly but surely the virus went from being in another country to another state to another city, and then it was here.
Plastic walls went up in our hospital to separate those that were sick from the rest of us. Before long, the tension in the air was palpable. Every code that was called would cause our entire team to perk up. We prayed that it wasn’t our patient. Just the word “code” would take me back to my grandfather, and I would feel the anxiety and dread that I did that day, but this was different. These patients did not have loved ones watching on the sidelines. Their families did not watch the code team do everything possible to save their life. Our patients are missing out on spending their last moments with loved ones. Doctors, nurses, and other hospital staff are left to hold hands and watch them take their last breaths.
We as physicians are taught to compartmentalize, and to take a breath so that we can stay focused and continue to treat other patients that also need medical assistance. As for me, each code becomes less of a trigger for that painful memory. The callus continues to form, layer by layer, protecting me from my emotions so that I can concentrate. I do my best to hold my patients’ hands, to talk to their families, and get them a video call when I can. My mission is to sit and explain anything that they may be confused about. I take advantage of the time afforded to me by my position as a medical student to try and get my patients through their fear of staying in the hospital during the pandemic. However, the patient lists continue to get longer and the resources become more scarce.
The country is currently experiencing a code blue and the healthcare providers work tirelessly to keep it alive. The physicians, residents, nurses, and other hospital staff are pushing forward through grief, through fear and will continue to do so until we are no longer able to. I have never been prouder to belong to a group of people. I admire those around me and how they show up everyday and teach me to be better than I was the day before. I understand that this is not normal, and that everyone is just trying to make it to tomorrow, and yet they take the time to teach. They show patience and understanding while we navigate this pandemic together. I know that I not only speak for myself when I say thank you to every mentor out there who has taken the time to teach a student during this incredibly stressful time. We understand that the pressures and demands of your job are higher than they have ever been, and that your day would go by much faster without having to stop and walk us through a concept, procedure, etc. Because of you, we will survive.
Rachel Salinas is a third-year medical student at UTRGV School of Medicine in Edinburg, TX. She is a proud Latina and first generation physician and hopes to serve her community and its healthcare needs in any way that she can. She loves to read, enjoys the theatre, and likes spending time with her family.
Our blog is a forum for our members to speak, and as such, statements made here represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily the opinion of the Association of Women Surgeons.