“Hey buddy, can you spare some ventilators?”

No, this is not an attempt at dark humor. This is the preamble of numerous calls that are going on across the nation right now. Whether the call is made to a ventilator manufacturer or to other medical centers, hospitals are busy stocking up on the highly technical devices that are anticipated to be in short supply. Here in North Carolina, where ...

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I am sure this comes as a surprise to no one, but taking care of hospitalized COVID-19 patients outside of the intensive care unit (ICU) is really emotionally draining. The absolute fear and loneliness in their voices pierce into you. They keep asking for reassurance, and I’m providing some, but not enough of what they want or need to hear. Yes, you’re on oxygen, but not very much, and overall ...

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The image of patients dying in the intensive care unit is changing. Over the phone, family members cry on the other end as I tell them that we are not allowing visitors due to “the coronavirus” at this time. They tell me, “but I help make his decisions for him.” These decisions now have to be made over the phone. This is just what we have to do to keep society ...

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No break for 12 hours. We beg to go to the bathroom just for a nano-second. You know, in between not skipping a beat to hang life-saving IV drips, assisting with central line insertions and arterial lines and intubations of the sickest. We pretty much just go door to door literally saving lives. Code blues, and chest compressions and emergent intubations and rapid response team screams out overhead, as we are responsible for ...

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In the neonatal ICU, a baby dies from necrotizing enterocolitis or NEC.  It’s not the first, nor the last time I’ll experience death during my medical career. Doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, surgeons, and the rest of the team spent the days prior to his death, implementing medical interventions and procedures hoping to arrest the process. Two surgeries, multiple blood transfusions, antibiotics, drips to support the blood pressure, intubation and ventilator ...

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We were told to wear masks before entering this patient’s ICU room. Entering his room, you could smell his rotting flesh. He was 92 years old. His skin would slough off if you dared to bathe him. His decubitus ulcers were raging with infection. As long as I’ve been an ICU nurse, this was the worst — the smell, the neglect, the disrespect for this man. He was VIP status. I always had a problem ...

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The best teacher of medicine I ever had was during my medical residency. He was a tough, old-school physician, trained at one of the premier institutions in the country, and specialized in pulmonology and intensive care. Before I had even rotated through the ICU, I had seen him around on the medical floors—and must admit I didn’t like him very much at first. He seemed extremely serious, not particularly friendly to any ...

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Let's talk about the doctor who is excessively defensive. I divide this kind of communication blocker into two varieties: physician personality and physician mode of practice. The physician with a defensive personality is one who interprets questions from parents as questioning of her medical judgment. Unlike the supremely egotistical doctor, who is often sufficiently secure in her image of herself that she is magnanimous toward parents who ask questions, the overly ...

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I am a critical care RN, and I violated my patients’ rights. For decades, every day that I worked in the emergency department or the intensive care unit, I violated my patients’ federally protected rights to participate in their plan of care. I didn’t mean to, or want to, but my tasks to maintain their life took priority over the obstacles to hearing them when they could not speak. Almost every day ...

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She was new to this ICU. She was young, smart, funny, and considered one of the “cool” nurses. Before we could really get to know her, she exposed her wonderful, fantastic, perfect life all over social media. Their perfect two-story brick house, their two little, perfect angel daughters — the perfect life in the perfect town. But what was most important was her perfect, handsome husband. He was bound to be a self-employed ...

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I’m a pediatric hospitalist, and I know that most days in the hospital are routine. But every once in a while, a patient pierces through your armor, and touches your heart in totally unexpected ways. Willow did that to me. Willow was five days old and had been admitted because her breathing was not quite right. I first met her in her hospital room, with her dad hovering over her bassinet, ...

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I knew things weren't right when a nurse called me on my cell phone just a few minutes after she sent me to pump milk in a private room and said that the medical team wants to meet with my husband and me immediately in a conference room. My suspicions were confirmed when we walked into a conference room and saw a long table full of doctors who all stood ...

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The sun sets a cascade of pink and yellow in the window of an ICU room. The slow hum of ventilation dampens the buzzes and beeps from machines. I stand in a room inundated by equipment. A machine to monitor vital signs with purple, green, blue, and red on a black background displays peaking and rolling waveforms. Two IV poles with twelve pumps click and murmur sounds of fluid migration ...

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The brother I never knew. He was buried in an unmarked grave with other dead babies. 1960. I am now the age my mother died. She was 64 years old: colon cancer. She was a vacant, negligent mother. During one of my psychology classes in nursing school, we learned about the baby monkey experiment (the Harlow experiment), where a baby monkey was laid against a mother made of wires. It was an inanimate object ...

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As a woman physician, practicing for over 31 years, I have faced many misogynistic occurrences as well as misperceptions about my career choice. This blatant devaluation of women within medicine may be similar to what other women have had or continue to face daily. At large, these experiences resulted in a journey not always easy, nor welcomed, but in the end, accepted for the maturity obtained. My hope is that by ...

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The room is half-lit from the sunset. Crowding around the bed, in almost saint-like postures, is the family of our patient who is in her last moments of life. I do my best to console the family, a light touch on the shoulder, and honest stare. Then, there’s the inevitable moment, the palliative extubation. Our patient, gasping for air, head turned to her side, the room in a quiet somber. The moment ...

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I was a brand-new intern in the intensive care unit, and Cassandra was the very first patient I saw there. A petite, slender woman, she was rolled in on a stretcher, accompanied by her tall, athletic husband, Jack. Cassandra was in her 20s, like me — but mortally ill. That grabbed my attention from the start. But the biggest lesson she taught me came about because we got her prognosis all ...

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I woke up to him, pacing the bedroom. Within an hour, I was pacing the ER at his bedside. Our experience at one of the country's best-ranked hospitals lasted only three days before we were discharged home. What led us there will last a lifetime in our minds. When faced with your own mortality (or that of your husband's), you are forever changed. We are grateful for his continued recovery from myopericarditis. ...

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"Deeper compressions! Deeper! Make sure you get that recoil!" I push harder and lift off higher. I'm starting to sweat. My stethoscope is banging around my neck. I should have taken it off, I think. My hair is flying around my face. I should have tied it up. I'm on tiptoe; my legs are cramping. I should have stood on a step stool. "All right, she's getting tired. Next!" Embarrassing ... I only ...

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I read Samuel Shem's House of God twice — once in my late college/early med school years and another sometime during my pulmonary/critical care fellowship. The first time, I recall thinking it was drop-dead hilarious. I eagerly shared it with friends and family. Absorbing the wisdom of the fat man, the catchy vocabulary, and the cynicism of the narrator made me feel somehow like an insider wise to the game ...

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