Code Blues(11)

By: Melissa Yi

During the physical exam, my hands traversed all over her abdomen, while I asked if it hurt. "Dolor? Dolor?"

The family enjoyed this demonstration of fifty percent of my Spanish vocabulary (the other word I knew was si, or yes) and praised my excellent command of the language. "Très bien!" The patient beamed at me. She didn't look too pained. I was in the middle of asking her to turn over for a rectal exam when I heard a flat woman's voice from the speakers overhead, "CODE. BLUE. OPERATING ROOM."

I froze.


The pink curtain ripped open, revealing Dr. Dupuis' flushed face. "Come on!" he yelled.

We flew around the nursing station and past the X-ray light boxes. He slammed the side door open with the heel of his hand. We dashed down the narrow back hallway.

He punched open another teal door. As we sprinted up two flights of stairs, one of my black leather clogs almost went airborne. I jammed my foot back into it. Dr. Dupuis ended up a half-flight ahead of me, but I caught up to him on the landing.

We dashed left, and then another left past the elevators, and then we were at the T junction of a hallway and Dr. Dupuis was yelling, "Where is it?" at a guy in a white uniform and a blue bonnet-cap.

The guy pointed back over Dr. Dupuis's shoulder. "Men's change room!"

Dr. Dupuis doubled-back a few steps and shoved open the door to a small, jaundice-yellow room.

Should I follow him in a men's room?

The door nearly swung shut again. I thrust it open.

Beige lockers lined the four yellow walls and made a row down the middle of the room. A wooden bench stretched lengthwise in each half-room.

In the far half, wedged between the bench and the lockers, I spotted a pair of men's leather shoes. The feet sprawled away from each other. The scuffed gray soles of the shoes pointing toward me.

Dr. Dupuis crouched at the man's head, blocking my view of the top, but someone had yanked the man's charcoal T-shirt up to his armpits, exposing his white belly and chest, above his brown leather belt and khaki pants.

A black woman in a white coat pressed her fingers against the side of the man's throat. "There's no pulse."

"I'll start CPR!" I yelled, running toward them. I'd only ever seen one code blue, on a sick patient in the emergency room who didn't make it. I'd never heard of a code in a men's room. We didn't even have gloves. Mouth-to-mouth wasn't my first choice.

I knelt on the cold tile floor, my arms extended, hands laced, and braced to do CPR. Then I finally saw the man's face.

His features were mottled purple, his filmy eyes fixed half-open, his jaw hanging open under his moustache.

The man was dead. Long dead. Cause NYD.

Dr. Dupuis lifted his stethoscope from the man's hairy brown chest, his face grim. "I'm calling it. Eight twenty-four."

He was calling the time of death. I had only seen that once, after the code. After we had tried intubation, CPR, drugs, and even a pericardiocentesis to try and remove any blood from around the heart. It was too late to try, for this man.

Dr. Dupuis pressed his fingers against the man's cheekbone. I flinched, but the purple color overriding the face didn't blanch. "Livor mortis," he said.

I took a deep breath. I remembered that from my forensic pathology course. After someone dies, gravity makes the blood pool and discolors any skin that's not under pressure. I'd just never seen it up close and personal. Now, avoiding the man's staring eyes, I could see that his anterior flanks were also blotched purple. He had died on his stomach.

I poked my index finger against his mottled flank, indenting the cool skin. As I pulled back, the flesh slowly rebounded, but still didn't change color.

Dr. Dupuis voice was loud and sudden in my ear. "Let him go."

I recoiled, wiping my finger against my scrub pants, but he was talking to the black woman who still had her fingers on his throat. "He's too far gone, and this may end up being a crime scene."

Crime scene?

Dr. Dupuis's voice shook only a little when he said, "It's Kurt."

She nodded, dropping her eyes. She withdrew her hand from his throat and crossed her arms, hugging herself tightly.

Dr. Dupuis stood. "He was one of the doctors here," he said, his head averted.

Oh, my God. I scanned the face again. The moustache. Was this the guy whose speech I'd interrupted?

Slowly, I reprogrammed the brown eyes, the broad forehead, the slightly hooked nose, and the moustache in my mind. Yes. It was him. I closed my eyes.

I heard Dr. Dupuis's steps thumping around the room. He called, "Did you see anything? Evidence of foul play?"

It sounded like something out of a movie. Maybe it was. I doubt Dr. Dupuis had ever found a colleague dead in the men's change room before, but he didn't let it faze him. He lifted the white plastic lid of the soiled linen cart by the door. "Look for needles," he said, peering inside. "Anything to do with drugs."