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Vintage Dr. Val: Do The Right Thing

Always do right.  This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.

–Mark Twain

I am out of town for the week and will be blogging sporadically. I hope you enjoy this true story/repost:


I remember a case where a young internal medicine intern was taking care of a 42 year old mother of 3.  The mother had HIV/AIDS and had come to the hospital to have her PEG tube repositioned.  Somewhere along the way, she required a central line placement, and as a result ended up with a pretty severe line infection.  The woman’s condition was rapidly deteriorating on the medicine inpatient service, and the intern taking care of her called the ICU fellow to evaluate her for admission to the intensive care unit.

The fellow examined the patient and explained to the intern that the woman had “end stage AIDS” and that excessive intensive care management would be a futile endeavor, and that the ICU beds must be reserved for other patients.

“But she was fine when she came to us, the line we put in caused her downward spiral – she’s not necessarily ‘end stage,’” protested the intern.

The fellow wouldn’t budge, and so the intern was left to manage the patient – now with a resting heart rate of 170 and dropping blood pressure.  The intern stayed up all night, aggressively hydrating the woman and administering IV antibiotics with the nursing staff.

The next day the intern called the ICU fellow again, explaining that the patient was getting worse.  The ICU fellow responded that he’d already seen the patient and that his decision still stands.  The intern called her senior resident, who told her that there was nothing he could do if the ICU fellow didn’t want to admit the patient.

The intern went back to the patient’s room and held her cold, cachectic hand.  “How are you feeling?” she asked nervously.

The frail woman turned her head to the intern and whispered simply, “I am so scared.”

The intern decided to call the hospital’s ethics committee to explain the case and ask if it really was appropriate to prevent a young mother from being admitted to the ICU if she had been in reasonable health until her recent admission.  The president of the ethics committee reviewed the case immediately, and called the ICU fellow’s attending and required him to admit the patient.  Soon thereafter, the patient was wheeled into the ICU, where she was treated aggressively for sepsis and heart failure.

The next day during ICU rounds the attending physician asked for the name of the intern who had insisted on the admission.  After hearing the name, he simply replied with a wry smile, “remind me never to f [mess] with her.”

The patient survived the infection and spent Mother’s Day with her children several weeks later.

This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

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4 Responses to “Vintage Dr. Val: Do The Right Thing”

  1. RevJuicer says:

    Thanks for sharing Dr. Val. What a great hospital IQ, having the sense to take it to the ethics committee.

  2. rummuser says:

    What a story. I only wish that we had a lot more of this kind of medical professionals and totally nil of the ICU types.  Sadly, that will remain a dream.  This intern deserves all possible kudos for her brave and highly medical professional stand.  If you can, plese do pass this message to her. Thank you.

  3. Village Elder says:

    What a wonderful story, Dr. Val.

  4. RH Host Melissa says:

    This is a great story!  Thank you for sharing it with us.  Kudos to her for standing up for the patient. 

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