When a code is called in the hospital, it means two things: A caregiver’s day is about to be turned upside-down, and a patient’s world is about to fall to pieces. If you’re a caregiver, when a code is called you look up from your own work and wonder who’ll be sprinting through the halls and whose story is unfolding.
This time, the story was ours.
Mrs. Hernandez is a ninety-two-year-old Spanish-speaking woman, originally from Mexico, with high blood pressure and high cholesterol, who arrived in the emergency department of the hospital where I’m a fourth-year medical student.
Her right arm and leg were weak, the right side of her face drooped; her speech was slurred, and she seemed confused. Her CT scans showed that a blood clot had blocked her middle cerebral artery, in the area of the brain that governs language. Mrs. Hernandez was a stroke victim.
It is day 30+ of New York City’s COVID-19 pandemic. Fire trucks and flashing lights fill the street fronting the hospital emergency department where I’m a physician. The scene erupts into applause and sirens. We doctors, nurses, physician assistants, techs, housekeepers and clerks wave back and flash our individual cardboard letters spelling “Thank You!” It is so good to be outside and, for a few minutes, unafraid. Inside, our ER break room overflows with donated pizzas and pastries. Later we will take cartloads of these up to the jam-packed ICU and medicine floors.
The virus has the world by the throat, and New York City is the epicenter. None of us has ever seen this
I am a medical student in my third year of studies. For medical students, this is the point at which, after two years of book learning, we rotate through hospital clerkships that give us our first experience of delivering hands-on care to inpatients.
Earlier in the year (it feels like many lifetimes ago), I read that COVID-19 was “just the flu.” We heard from scientific sources and popular media that other maladies were much worse, and that it would be a mistake to overreact to this one. Like many people, I accepted these assurances without too much concern. It all seemed a bit remote to me–the way I imagine issues like food stamps may seem to a politician who’s never