“Code alert” in the ICU? There was only one possible culprit. If the cardiac surgery attending called back, he’d miss my explanation, but I’d have to update him now anyway. I left the call room and made my way to the ICU.
Wait a second, fire alarms? Funny, I don’t remember hearing a “code red” being called. Wait – no, there’s no way that Mr. T could have started a fire this quickly… Could he? Nah, he’s probably just pulled the fire alarm station or something. I hope.
As I walked down the long hallway leading into the unit, I could tell that something was off. For a start, it looked like someone had dumped half a linen closet on the floor. Why were there so many blankets all over the place? As I got closer, I could see that they were mostly clumped in front of one room. And outside this room was one of our respiratory therapists, Jimmy. But I’d never seen him like this before.
Jimmy was standing with one foot on the ground, the other planted on the wall, pulling closed the door to a patient room with all his might, and looking more than a little agitated. “Uh, Jimmy, what the he-” And at that moment, I looked through the window, into the room.
Oh… Oh! Um… what?!
I shook my head in disbelief. My eyes had to be deceiving me. Mr. T was standing alone in the room, on the other side of the bed. He was also stark naked, looking absolutely incensed, with water pouring out of a sprinkler unit and directly on his head. One look at Jimmy’s face told me this wasn’t a bad dream. I looked back at Mr. T.
But, but… this doesn’t happen in real life! This is like an episode of ER!
I got the rest of the story from Jimmy pretty quickly. While the “code brown” from the earlier incident was being cleaned up, Mr. T managed to get away from his nurses. He found another impromptu weapon and chased them, screaming in terror, out of the room. He then proceeded to smash up two windows, his cardiac monitor, and the TV. At some point, he also jumped onto the bed, ripping the smoke detector out of the ceiling with his bare hands and setting off the sprinkler.
And that’s how we ended up with two hysterical nurses, Mr. T in danger of drowning or slipping, Jimmy functioning as a sentry, and, by now, water seeping into neighboring patient rooms. And those damn fire alarms – I couldn’t hear myself think!
I tried to find Dr. G to come up with some plan about how to tackle this. He was preoccupied with trying to figure out how to keep the rest of the patients, several of whom were on ventilators, safe.
I headed back to Mr. T’s room, where the water was almost mid-calf by now. Which meant that it we were only a few more inches from water reaching the electrical outlets. Awesome. So, instead of drowning, Mr. T might actually be electrocuted – along with the rest of us, since the blankets were proving a poor match for the rapidly escaping water.
“Anyone know where the circuit breakers or water shutoff valve are? Anyone?” Of course not. Oh well, it was worth a try. Dr. G walked by and I stopped him.
“You! You realize this is all your fault?!”
His eyes grew wide. “My fault?! How could this be my fault? He’s your patient!”
“And who was complaining about it being too quiet earlier?!”
He just shook his head and chuckled quietly before walking off.
By this time, the local fire department had made an appearance. Oh good, we finally had a hope of getting somewhere. The evacuation was starting to move along too. One by one Dr. G would take patients off their ventilators, and their nurses would hand-ventilate them during transport. Well, they were being moved, until the firefighters refused to let the nurses use the elevators for the evacuation. Because the fire alarms were still going off.
Thankfully, a few moments later, we had the first sign of success – the sprinkler was shut off. Hallelujah, praise the Lord! Just in time too, because Mr. T and the rest of us were only a couple of minutes from getting the shock of our lives.
And oh look… The boys in blue were back again. This time, I didn’t even bother giving my “please be gentle” speech. They stood in front of Mr. T’s room, hands on hips. The standoff lasted less than a minute before Mr. T put down his weapon and waded over to the door.
Gush. Hundreds of gallons of rusty water flowed everywhere. Lovely.
He walked out calmly, allowing the officers to grip each of his arms firmly and lead him down the hallway to an empty (and drier) room. Here, he was immediately restrained, and given an extra dose of Haldol. Once he was settled in, and I felt reasonably sure that he wasn’t about to attempt to kill another staff member, I turned to leave and find a place to document the heck out of this.
Not so fast.
“Doctor, I need to have a word with you.” It was a police lieutenant… How could I refuse? “I understand that you weren’t very happy with how the situation earlier was handled. Why did you call us back?”
“Um… well. Ahem. Well… I didn’t actually call you back… I’m not sure who did, but we’re glad you came. We actually appreciated your people coming earlier too. I just became a little concerned when they sat on my post-op day 5 patient and smushed his chest! He’s just had major surgery and even though he looks pretty strong, his body is actually quite vulnerable, so we were just concerned for his safety.”
A few moments of grumbling later, I was finally free to go. I slouched over to the nurses station and collapsed in a chair. This was insane. How was I supposed to explain it in the morning?! I started to write my note, detailing the events of the night. At some point, I wondered whether I should also write a letter of resignation. I soldiered on, and after a while, Dr. G wandered over and sat down next to me, holding his face in his hands.
“girlwithaknife… what the #$@& just happened?”
I giggled, probably sounding about as deranged as I felt by now. “I don’t know, Dr. G, I don’t know. Hopefully, we can look back and laugh about this one day.”
Then I frowned at my own words. “Just… maybe not today.”