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Every hospital has a code they use over the intercom when calling a CPR team to a patient or visitor who has stopped breathing or whose heart has stopped beating.  The Methodist Hospital code was (and I believe still is) ‘Dr. Emory House.’ On occasion, I sat with family members while a patient was being resuscitated, so I knew a little of what it was like for those who could do nothing but wait and pray. What I didn’t know was what went on in the minds and hearts of those who responded to the call for Dr. Emory House. So I asked. I thought you might find interesting what a nurse and physician told me. 

The Nurse’s Statement:

As I am on my way to the area given, I always wonder if it’s a patient or visitor. Once I’m there, I feel out the situation, look to see who is doing what and how fast everything is moving. I tend to get lost in the situation, removing myself from the person and concentrating on the disease. It is only at the time of outcome, that the individual becomes a person again.

If the patient dies, I review mentally all that was done. Did I make an impact on the outcome? I step it through, giving it an overall look.

If the patient survives, and my feelings were that the patient should not have been coded, I have trouble dealing with this personally and morally. I feel I prolonged death rather than extended life.

I always debrief with someone to get rid of the emotional impact it has on me. I think all nurses are careful about doing this. It’s important to talk it out.

After an Emory House, I need reaffirmation that I am still alive – a hug or just some touch. This is especially so if the patient is a young person. I need to feel all the feelings you experience when you are alive.

The good comes when crisis intervention has only positives. The patient makes it and is restored to quality life. I feel I’ve been put on this earth for a purpose and possibly this is one of the ways I fulfill that purpose.

The Doctor’s Statement:

Explaining my thoughts to the code goes back to when I was 13 and my father died. He was ‘re-sussed’ at home and didn’t make it.

As an intern, not yet skilled to participate, I felt a lot of emotion when I witnessed resuscitation. I was medically detached and emotionally attached. Then as a resident, that detachment reversed itself. The medical point is so intense, you much detach emotionally.

When you are coding a patient, you don’t look at the face; you just go by the book. My heart usually races as I think how important it is not to make a mistake. I’m aware eyes are on me to direct the resuscitation. You have to know when to stop, and that’s very hard.

As a private physician, you get pulled back in emotionally. When an Emory House is called on your patient, you think of all you know about that person. You wonder what happened in the last 24 hours. Did I fail to do something?

No one teaches doctors how to tell the family when the patient doesn’t make it. This is probably the most difficult part for me. I learned from watching an extremely compassionate doctor. He showed me the importance of touch and speaking softly.

There’s such a feeling of emptiness when it’s all over. I don’t usually react emotionally, but one night after an unsuccessful Emory House, I went home to watch television. There was a scene where someone was coded and he didn’t make it. I cried.


These interviews took place thirty years ago, however I suspect little would differ if these same interviews happened today. I’m sure many of you have prayed for doctors and nurses when you or loved ones have been sick – for their knowledge and skills. But have you ever thought to pray for their protection and healing? They need those prayers, too.