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Awkward Moments in Medicine

I recently wrote about some awkward moments that I’ve had with my patients over the years. However, I think that Shadowfax’s blog post may win the award for most distressing patient encounter.

A hospitalized, elderly man was very ill and had requested to be considered DNR (do not resuscitate). Many years prior he had had a defibrillator implanted so that his heart would be automatically shocked if it went into an abnormal rhythm. His family gathered around him as he died peacefully from old age coupled with infection. The defibrillator, however, correctly recognized an “abnormal heart rhythm” (i.e. a flat line) and continued to shock the deceased man’s heart at regular intervals, causing his chest to twitch in front of his pained family members. The hospital’s defibrillator magnet (the off-switch for the device) had been misplaced, and so physicians were left to call neighboring hospitals and cardiologists to try to shut the machine off.

In the process of trying to locate the magnet, the doctors had to identify the brand of the defibrillator – a Saint Jude device. As it happened, one of the doctors receiving the request for the magnet was Catholic, and recognized the grim irony of the situation.

Saint Jude is the patron saint of lost causes.This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

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2 Responses to “Awkward Moments in Medicine”

  1. Dr. Wes says:

    Regrettably, in our work-a-day worlds, people forget to ask about this… IWe should encourage our DNR paperwork to include a checklist for assuring defibs are turned off once the patient elects comfort care measures only…

    Oh, and one more thing, you’ve been tagged.

  2. DrDavid says:

    What an awful story!  But the irony is beautiful.

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