The EMS call comes over the phone to us in the ED, ambulance in the field needs assistance. 5 month old, found down, not breathing for an unknown time, be advised CPR in progress. 1 round of epi through an intraosseous line, asystole is the presenting heart rhythm.
The three of us--intern, senior resident who answered the phone, and pediatric EM staff--calm down when we hear the story. This is not a rush, not a challenge, not a moment to shine. This is a moment to let death quietly come in. The chance of success bringing back a dead baby with no heart activity is near zero, and the chance of having a baby recognizable as a baby who smiles and coos is even smaller than that. But we are in a quiet, carpeted control room, not in a cramped ambulance performing CPR on a tiny infant with family looking on. It's easy for us to assess the situation at a distance. Easy for us to be 'objective'.
More details are relayed--impaired status at baseline, crack mom, baby now living with grandma who wants everything done. 2 rounds of epi, aystole in three leads. Intubation fails. Bagging, doing compressions. As I listen, the paramedics relay updates in brief chunks of speech with long pauses.
The senior resident asks for signs of lividity or prolonged downtime. A long pause. We're dealing with an african-american baby, hard to tell, comes the answer. One sign of lividity is pooling of blood by gravity, which is easier to see in a caucasian baby, but that's not why they answer that way.
Third round of epi. Asysto--wait, one beat. Another beat. Long pauses.
The pediatric staff puts her hand to the bridge of her nose, squeezing. I hate the third round of epi, she says. You can get a beat from a stone with enough epi, the senior resident says.
Ask them if there's a pulse. Cajole them. Push them to call off their efforts, it's the right thing to do. We're in the carpeted room. The situation is clear to us. We're not the ones compressing the tiny chest, feeling the ribs recoil, suctioning out the mouth, bagging, watching the limbs jump with the compressions. We're not the ones willing return of circulation. Not the ones chasing the fairy tale ending.
No pulse. Asystole. Stop.