During an afternoon lull in a wintry ICU shift, I went down to the cafeteria for a cup of coffee. As I wandered in, the code bells rang. “CODE BLUE. Women’s restroom, across from the gift shop.” I was right around the corner, and so I was first to arrive on the scene.
I was a senior resident, recently matched into a prestigious fellowship, and had I not been preparing to run a code, it would have been a good moment to reflect on my growth as a physician. Two and a half years earlier, when I was in my second week of internship, I had been just around the corner when a patient’s AAA ruptured and she had a PEA arrest. That time as well, I was the first doctor to arrive. I had never run a code before, and even announcing myself as “Doctor” was a great feat. I was in charge for about 30 seconds before a resident showed up to relieve me.
Now all grown up, I should have been fearless, but this was scary in a different way; it was the women’s restroom. Before entering, I looked around for reassurance from a couple of bystanders. They nodded encouragingly, and so I knocked and slowly opened the door. “Hi, it’s Dr. Gottlieb,” I said. At least that word came easily to me now. “Is everything okay?” I asked.
An unexpectedly calm voice came from inside the stall. “Yes, I’d like two lemon slices, please.” I stopped. It seemed that this sweet old lady had mistaken the emergency assistance cord for a waiter’s bell. It would take some careful thought to find out why she needed lemons delivered to her bathroom stall, but for me, the code leader with a team of medicine residents, emergency department physicians, and critical care nurses assembling outside, my patient was safe. I got myself a coffee and returned to the ICU.