In medical school, you are trained to militarily deal with cardiac arrests. The precision of your actions in each different scenario is taught, questioned and examined. We have written examinations and practical tests to allow us to be judged whether we are ready for the real world to deal with this heart stopping emergency. It is frightening to go through these drills, as some classes have you doing it in front of your whole class, others have you recorded on a camera, and you watch yourself back. We have the pleasure of going through this experience every few years throughout our medical careers, even when we have graduated. The drills for the cardiac arrest protocol are repeated to a point you don't have to think when the actual day arrives, so you are an efficient robot moving swiftly into action. However, no matter how often you go through these drills in your head, nothing can prepare you for the actual experience.
My first cardiac arrest I remember with precise recall- something I think all doctors can remember. Mine was on a Wednesday early afternoon. I had gone to the hospital takeaway to get a late breakfast and coffee. I was walking towards the bathroom when suddenly I heard it…a distinct buzzing and then a clear loud robotic female voice: “Attention! Emergency! Cardiac Arrest, area A, ward 7”. This repeated. I stood frozen for a moment, thinking this might be a practice drill. I looked straight ahead catching my reflection in the window. This was no practice, I did not have any textbooks to hide in. I am now the doctor and not the medical student. It is time.
In one swift move, I threw my breakfast in the bin next to me and started to run. I could feel the blood in my ears, my heart was pounding, my need to suddenly urinate had disappeared. I was scared, i will admit it. I suddenly stopped running- where was area A? The hospital felt like the size of an airport. I was still using the hospital map to get around, but I had never been before to area A. But I did not have my paper map with me now. I looked quickly left and right. I saw a map on the wall and ran to it. Desperately trying to get visitors to move out of the way, saying to them “ please, theres an emergency”. I desperately poured over the map, “where is it? where is it!”. Finally! I had to go up three flights of stairs ahead then turn left. OK! I ran on. Up the corridor, which appeared deserted, clearly not many others in the hospital used this part either. Up the stairs I went, usually I would be exhausted going up the hospital stairs, but the adrenaline was flowing. I had to keep muttering ‘keep calm, keep calm, you can do this, keep calm’. With each step I quickly recapped on each possible cardiac arrest scenario and the dosages of drugs. I felt faint, I couldn't remember the dosage of one of the medications. ’Just keep calm, just keep calm’. Was there time to grab my Oxford Handbook of Medicine and look up the dose? No, of course there was not. On top of the staircase I hesitated before I took step to the left. “Please if there is a God, please help me”.
I took a deep breath in and started running again. I found the ward, and as soon as I ran in, it was like I was a tsunami as all the visitors moved aside as i ran. The nurses were pointing as I ran past to show me where to run. “I hope I am not the only there, please be another doctor there as well, please don’t let me be the only one there!” I got to the bed and saw the scene. There was a anaesthetist already there with another junior doctor with two nurses, one of which giving a brief about the patient, and there on the bed lying flat was the patient.
I felt that I couldn't hear anything. I felt I was stuck to the ground. Medical school can only teach you so much, and usually your practising on a fake mannequin and you’re the one giving instructions to an imaginary team. But here, the team is real and so is the patient.
Suddenly everything went into action, one of the nurses was running somewhere, the anaesthetist was moving towards the patients head, the junior doctor was grabbing blood bottles from the crash trolley, and suddenly like the A-team a flood of more staff had arrived. It was hectic. The next few moments I can’t remember. It was a blur. Drugs were given, chest compressions were given, and instructions booming over our heads. At some point I was running the bloods to the laboratory, then it was all over. I still can't remember how long it lasted for or what I was actually doing throughout it. The patient survived.