Thursday, May 14, 2009

Mr. Cunningham Goes Home

I had just taken Mr. Cunningham his evening medication. His brother had been in from out of town visiting, he came several hundred miles just to visit his brother who had been in the hospital for about a week now. Mr. Cunningham came in with dehydration and a UTI. He was on the mend however during the stay they found prostate cancer. It was not advanced and at this point treatable. The prognosis was pretty good. This man was 70 years old they were giving him several more years if he did the treatments.

When I gave him his medication, we had a conversation about how nice it was for him to see his brother. He hadn't seen him in several years and he was touched by his brothers devotion. Mr. Cunningham was in great spirits and was looking forward to his discharge tomorrow. His brother would stay another week and they would spend time together while Mr. Cunningham was home and they could enjoy each other more.

I left Mr. Cunninghams room, went back to the nurses station and began "speed charting". It was the close to the end of my shift and there were several things left to chart and orders to check before the next shift arrived. I had not been out of Mr. Cunninghams room 10 minutes when I saw his dinner arrive. Mr. Cunningham was pretty self sufficient. He was stong enough to and able to walk the hallways alone, as he did earlier in that day. He didn't require help with his meal and knew to use the call light if he needed anything.

Another 5 minutes pass, and I receive a call from telemetry.

"The patient in room 3215 just haed 15 beats of VT", the person on the phone informed me.

"Ok, I was just in there and I will go check on him right now"

His room was not even 40 feet from where I was standing. I hung up the phone and started walking, pretty quickly that way. My phone rang again, this time I heard. .
"Now it is sustained VT". Ok, now I am running. I was in the room before I even hung up the phone.

"CALL A CODE!" that is all I could get out of my mouth. There were several nurses at the nurses station and they saw me begin to run. Now, when you see a nurse running there is usually another one not far behind. Even if they don't know why they are running, a running nurse means trouble somewhere, so it is kind of an unwritten standard that someone follow just in case.

Mr. Cunningham was laying sideways across the bed. All 100 pounds of him totally sideways. I tried to get him to respond but he didn't. He did have a pulse, a very very fast one, but I could feel something. He was breathing really really shallow but at this point still breathing. We got him in the bed right, put oxygen on him and I hear what I believe must be a heard of elephants coming down the hallway.

Yep, you guessed it. . . I worked in a teaching hospital. Residents come out of the woodwork for a code. They immediately go him hooked up to the cardiac monitor and began compressions. Respiratory therapy attempted to intubate. This was my second code as a nurse and I was totally not into this at all!!! I had more nurses helping me than I knew what to do with. Administration came to help, someone recorded, someone else pushed meds, RT finally got him intubated and the residents took turns with compression. More residents worked together to get a femoral line. I stayed at the end of the bed, answering questions and telling the other nurses what we needed, so we had a runner for more equipment if necessary. I couldn't believe my eyes. He was just fine 20 minutes ago!!! He was chatting with his brother and ready to go home tomorrow. Now. . . it doesn't look like he will make it. I began to silently pray. I prayed that God would give him more time. More time to spend with his brother. That was all the family he had. Then it dawned on me, we didn't have a phone number for his brother. He was planning on being back tomorrow, but the only number we had was a neighbor. That was his emergency contact. I wispered this to the nursing administrator who then worked with social services to find a way to contact the brother. He had not even been gone 45 minutes probably.

They worked on Mr. Cunningham for over an hour. Shift change took place. The other nurses went back to their patients, nursing administration stayed to help me and everyone went about their scheduled tasks. I stayed. I stayed because he was my responsibility. I stayed because, I was afraid to leave. I stayed even after all the residents and ICU docs left and went back to their living and breathing patients. I stayed to get Mr. Cunningham ready for his next journey. The nursing supervisor helped me clean the room and get the paperwork done. She helped me get him cleaned up and we called security to take him to the morge to await his brother.

My heart broke that day. He was so sweet and so full of life that day. He knew he was going home. He looked forward to the time he was going to spend with his brother. He was on the mend and there was no warning. None at all!! I am very confident we did all we could for him and at the same time, no one wants to lose a patient. Tears fell to the floor as I picked up syringe wrappers, central line kits, empty medicine viles and threw them away. This was all the evidence left in this room that proved there was once a valuable life eating dinner here.

I cried all the way home. I prayed that Mr. Cunninghams brother would be found BEFORE he came for his visit in the morning. I prayed that he had someone besides Mr. Cunningham in his life to give him support.

Mr. Cunningham was so excited to get to go home, and I am not sure he realized at that moment exactly what that meant.

Mr. Cunningham went HOME.



  1. Okay. . . not prepared for that. . .but then neither were you! That broke my heart. It must have really left you with little tearful pieces. Thank you for the post!

  2. Goodness, Girl, that was a tear jerker. I have only participated in one code and that was enough...Wonderfully written.

  3. Just wanted to let you know that I do still check out your blog. Hope you guys are doing well.

  4. Wow... what a story. That broke my heart.