CPR
by James Stenard


"Please. Please! Do everything you can."

Uh-oh. Another one of these. Do everything you can. Didn't she know that we, the team and I, were already trying our best? Her father was sick, very sick, and the organisms causing his sepsis were resistant to all of our antibiotics.

Did she know what she was asking? The futility of performing CPR on a frail geriatric with multi-organ failure seemed clear to us. Did she know that proper resuscitation breaks bones? Did she know that her father's body was dying? Could she weigh the probability of success against the certainty of declining quality of life? Does she know that "getting better" doesn't mean "back to the way things were before"?

We approached her about end-of-life care. We attempted all the typical avenues: palliative care, hospice, DNR status. She wasn't having it. She insisted her father would be healthy again, like old times.

When he coded, we pushed. We did it again a second, third, and fourth time. Each time, the team felt we were refusing him the right to pass away with dignity. Ethically, it is not our place to say what makes for a meaningful life, and true, we can't always predict who will make it, but still. The frustration of our team and his family were both palpable.


He did die, eventually. I came in one morning and was greeted with the news, along with the addendum, "Good for him." He was one of the lucky ones, it seems. He ‘only' endured an extra week of aggravating morbidity.

As I see the white sheet covering the ICU bed and walk out of the quiet room, I can't help but wonder: "Why does our healthcare system punish the dying?"


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