Michael Attas: Emergency shows hospital staff's judgment, focus

Waco Tribune-Herald (TX) - Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Author: MICHAEL ATTAS Guest columnist


A young woman, who was 32 weeks pregnant, was admitted with the sudden onset of congestive heart failure, and started to rapidly deteriorate.

Attending to her were cardiologists, pulmonologists, obstetricians, neonatologists, nurses, chaplains, respiratory therapists and lab technicians.

The pace was furious, yet all focused on their respective duties with laser-like clarity.

Emotions were running high, and as I looked about the room I realized that all had tears in their eyes, yet somehow called upon a deep trust in our collective skills to do their job.

It quickly became obvious that without delivering the baby, the mother had no chance for survival.

In less than five minutes after a decision was made, two heroic obstetricians had her prepped, draped, and an emergency C-section was done.

Unfortunately, the baby did not survive.

But the mother stabilized fairly quickly and was flown to another hospital where she got an implantable pump placed to stabilize her heart.

She then underwent surgery to replace the valve that had led to her crisis.

I was left with two very strong emotional responses after this case.

The first was that the gulf between academic medical ethics and the bedside of rapidly dying patients is unimaginably wide.

We often just do not have the luxury of time, reflection, research into similar cases or drawing our religious leaders into a quiet deliberate discussion.

A decision has to be made within minutes, and we all have to commit, for better or worse.

I was moved beyond words at the collective wisdom, kindness, and professional expertise that acted quickly to try to save lives.

Those cases take an emotional toll on everyone, yet we knew that if we did not act, we would have lost both mother and child.

That entire team acted with wisdom, clinical skill, precision, and compassion. There was a sense about what we were doing that we were placed there for a reason, and that, by God, we were not going down without a fight.

And the second strong emotion that struck me was how beautiful and sacred our respective fields in medicine can be.

We are gifted with a community of specialists who are trained with the wisdom and skill to act quickly in cases like this one.

We may not always be able to save every patient, but I am confident that it will never be for lack of trying.

Michael Attas is a local doctor, a medical humanities professor and an Episcopal priest. Contact him at Michael_Attas@baylor.edu.

Section: accesswaco
Record Number: 0222attas
(c) 2011 Robinson Media Co. LLC - Waco Tribune-Herald

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Michael Attas: Emergency shows hospital staff's judgment, focus

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