“Doctor, Chaplain, I Am Sick. No, Dying.”

God forbids, but if you find yourself having a cardio-pulmonary attack and wish earlier to be resuscitated, which resuscitation protocol will you opt for? Here’s the current dilemma.

From a lone copy of Newsweek at an Ob-Gyn clinic, an article of last year caught my senses. It is an article that promises to defy this dogma in conventional medicine – that code blue patients must be given immediate resuscitation or else, the tissues of their brain and heart could suffer irreversible damage from oxygen 5 minutes later.

The radical questioning came from the University of Pennsylvania where researchers found no evidence that the cells died after 1 hour. On the contrary, cells that are without oxygen for more than 5 minutes die when there is a sudden surge of oxygen supply – the very thing traditional resuscitation protocol is doing. Of the 34 patients they worked with, 80% were discharged alive, a stark contrast from the 15% survival applying the current, fast-paced protocol.

The aim, according to the researchers, is “to reduce oxygen uptake, slow metabolism, and adjust the blood chemistry for a gradual and safe” resumption of oxygen supply. They also endorse hypothermia or lowering body temperature and cooling the blood with an injectable slurry of salt and ice.

The psychological rationale of this approach, apparently, is to slow down the media-blown up ER chaos. It is to calm the surging fahrenheit of code blue situations. It could also be a clarion call for a gentle handling of fragile body cells whose life, more than we know, are significantly dependent on the right amount of external aid including oxygen among others. Beyond imagining, this medical curiosity might be a teaching moment for Western medicine and humanity. Maybe, the way to revive human life is as patient and gradual as the touch of morning sunlight and the right amount of water on a dying mustard shrub. If this medical insight holds water, perhaps, other members of code blue teams could learn something from the stand of chaplains. As members of code blue teams, they show up with their non-anxious presence and try to be catalysts of tranquility. In one small hospital corner or elsewhere, they listen trustingly with families of patients, or lead a whisper of a prayer. In the room, someone is pumping in epinephrine and another jolting the patient’s heart and chaplains are not oblivious to this commotion. In fact, they try to listen to it as keenly as they can and exchange it with some gentle and loving look. Then, like wizards of old, they wonder: “Where is the Sacred in this struggle? Where is the Source of life in this scuffle?” And with a better-than-sex-chocolate-cake that a nun-chaplain I know used to bake and boast with the team, there goes out also the suspended sigh of relief: Whoa!


To Treat the Dead,” by Jerry Adler, Newsweek May 7, 2007


3 thoughts on ““Doctor, Chaplain, I Am Sick. No, Dying.”

  1. Ohhh this brings back unhappy memories of that day husband died at the ICU unit of Medical City.

    Hospitals it seems are often repositories of unhappy memories. i’m pretty sure now and then you rest in the comfort of having had more happy memories with him than unhappy, hospital-related ones.

  2. Wonderful image of the non-anixous pressence of the Chaplain. Do we hold our breath as we pray?
    Do we hope the nurses and Doctors are not to tired? Do we stay with the family in their fear?
    And yet we are a stand-in for faith and God.
    Thank you for your blog. It is a wonderful place to pause and reflex.

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