On a Tuesday evening in December of 2015, I was confronted with my ugly inhumanity.
At the time, I was a junior clinical clerk on my night shift in the cardiology department. It was a slow evening in Ward 5C as usual. Patients of less severe conditions tend to be placed here. After all, this is not 5D, just a short hallway away, which houses higher risk cardiology patients.
I was chatting with a fellow junior clerk GL when the intercom calmly announced, “9595, East Campus, 5D.”
“9595, East Campus, 5D.”
GL and I glanced at each other, unsure whether we should take action. We both knew what 9595 meant—9595 was the in-hospital emergency code, akin to “Code Blue” often heard on TV shows. After a brief hesitation, we nodded, and ran to the neighboring ward.
A curious crowd had already gathered outside a room. A nurse quickly pushed a medical cart inside, and we followed along. A resident was yelling for an Ambu bag, while another was pressing down on the chest of an old man, and counting the repetitions aloud. A nurse rushed past us with the Ambu bag, bumping me to the side in her hurry.
For months, I had heard a few other clerks boast of performing CPR and saving lives in Code 9595 situations. Though I always found their brags disingenuous and distasteful, as another overachieving medical student, hungry for experience and practice, I envied them. This was my opportunity.
So I waited nearby for a chance to help. I was hoping the resident would switch out—she should tire soon because chest compressions are exhausting—and I could jump in. This was exhilarating.
As I waited, I could feel more people gathering outside, a sea of white coats in my peripheral vision. One of them approached and tapped me on the shoulder.
“What’s going on here?” A wide smile that could barely contain his gloating excitement greeted me. It was a clerk from another department.
Was I smiling? Was my smile as grotesque as his? I was not sure. But I knew deep down inside, I wanted something to happen. I wanted an experience. Either I could help save a life. Or if that was not happening… I was wanting to at least see someone die.
The chief resident had by now taken notice of the people gathering both outside and inside. Evidently annoyed, she barked at us all to get the fuck out of the room if we are not helping. Sitting immediately outside was a curled-up, sobbing old woman in the arms of her teary son. They were being comforted by a nurse. At this point, I was feeling fairly disgusted by the whole situation and myself, so I told GL that I want to go back to 5C. She agreed that there was not much to do here.
A few days later, it was another slow day at 5C. GL was studying patient charts, and asked if I wanted to know what happened to that old patient.
I told her, “no.”