Mrs. Hardy no longer looks at me with imploring eyes as I stand at the entrance to her room. She does not wave her hand for me to come and visit. She is comatose most of the time now. Her face points towards the ceiling. Her eyes are closed or sometimes blankly open. A light blue-green cooling blanket is spread on top of her body to control her fever. I keep looking on her IV pole for a pressor (blood pressure drip), but so far the doctors have been able to correct her periods of low blood pressure with IV fluid boluses. She is on an amiodarone drip (an anti-arrhythmic), so presumably her heart was not beating regularly without it. She is starting to “circle the drain” as we say.
After all this time Mrs. Hardy is still a “full code.” She has no advanced directives in place that would limit the measures that will be used to “save” her when her time of death arrives. By using pressors we can probably give Mrs. Hardy a few more weeks of suffering. If there was someone who could tell us that we did not have to use pressors, Mrs. Hardy would probably die in a few days or so. When the time does come we will probably push an amp or two of epi and atropine and maybe do a few cycles of chest compressions, but this will be mostly so that we can say we did it all. There will not be much point to it. Or else perhaps the family will finally relent at the end. One of my nursing preceptors used to say, “I hope my family does not love me this much.” Yes indeed. I have not seen Susan, the palliative care nurse, on the unit for the last couple of weeks. She probably reached a stalemate with the family and will probably be back around closer to the end. Come to think of it, I have not seen the family for weeks now.
This week my patients are not on the same special isolation precautions as Mrs. Hardy is, so it would be against the rules for me to go into her room. If I did, I might bring her bugs back to my patients. I ask her nurse, P, if she is still waking up, and she says that she is. I am friendly with P, so we chat about whether it is better to live in the city or the countryside as P goes into the room to fix Mrs. Hardy’s arterial line (A-line). P has a strong Chinese accent, and feels more at home in the city. The people in more rural areas make her uncomfortable and she asks me what I think about it. As I answer (somewhere between the city and the countryside, but definitely not the suburbs would be my preference), I notice there is no longer a sitter in Mrs. Hardy’s room.
Mrs. Hardy has an A-line in her left radial artery (left wrist) which is used to constantly monitor her blood pressure and also as an easy source for blood samples to send for labs (at least once a day). A-lines can last anywhere from a few days to a week or two before they need to be replaced. Mrs. Hardy’s is now positional – if her wrist is not flexed in the right way, the blood pressure does not read. P moves Mrs. Hardy’s wrist restraint onto the her hand, loops it over and reties it so that Mrs. Hardy’s arm is slightly twisted with her palm facing up and her hand pulled back. This works for the time being. The alternative would be to take this one out and have the doctor’s try for another one.
As P ties the restraint, Mrs. Hardy opens her eyes slightly, as if from a deep sleep, to see what is going on. After a moment she closes them again. This, apparently, is what P means when she says Mrs. Hardy is still waking up. It is all so normal for us.