We tried our best, but CPR, an injection of epinephrine, and 360 joules of electricity all failed to restart Mrs. Melnyk’s heart. When everybody on the resuscitation team agreed that we could do no more, I said the words:
“Time of death, 9:32.”
As we cleaned up, a young nurse began to tuck a clean white sheet around Mrs. Melnyk’s body—and then suddenly stopped.
“Wait!” she shouted, pointing at the heart monitor. There on the screen, an electrical impulse registered and quickly disappeared, replaced by a flat green line. “It’s too soon to give up!” the nurse said.
It turned out the young nurse had been fooled by a stray electrical discharge on an EKG machine. Together with her supervisor, we talked it through, and did not prolong the code blue.
That kind of confusion is getting more difficult to clear up, though. With newer technologies like PET scans and ECMO, the dividing line between life and death is getting harder to define.
To read more, check out my new post in The Atlantic.