Better Health: Smart Health Commentary Better Health (TM): smart health commentary

Article Comments (2)

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

You may also like these posts

    None Found

Read comments »

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.

Return to article »

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

Read more »

How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

Read more »

See all interviews »

Latest Cartoon

See all cartoons »

Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

Read more »

The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

Read more »

Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

Read more »

See all book reviews »

Commented - Most Popular Articles