A Nursing Story: Code Blue!

I was a nursing student, doing my summer internship on a Labor and Delivery floor. Patients were generally-healthy young women who were either in labor or had given birth to generally-healthy babies.

It was a happy place, and I found myself in tears nearly every day.

“This is such a beautiful moment!” I would sob each time a baby was being born. The new mother might be panting, bearing down, possibly screaming. The father was likely hovering anxiously nearby. And there I was, the supportive little student nurse, happily gripping the groaning mother’s knee. Tears spilled freely down my cheeks, as did the words from my trembling lips: “This is so wonderful! This is the best day ever! I’m so happy for you! I’m so honored to be here!”

I got a lot of odd looks from family members that summer.

Every day I helped my precepting nurse by checking vital signs and doing assessments on new mothers. I helped place foley catheters. I set up IV tubing. I learned about bleeding and breastfeeding.

And I got a lot of juice, crackers, soda, water. Whatever the new moms wanted.

We had an aide who was available to assist patients and provide things like juice and crackers. But generally I did it, myself, for my patients. I liked to help.

One memorable day, I was checking a new mom’s vital signs, and needed to check vitals on several other patients as well. Someone was calling for assistance to the bathroom, and my preceptor and I were expecting an admit at any moment. I felt busy.

As I checked her vitals, the new mom asked for a carton of apple juice. I decided that maybe this time, just this once, I would ask the aide to get the juice. Since I was busy.

I knew there was an intercom in the room. I could push a button, talk to the secretary, and ask that the aide bring apple juice to this room. But which button did I push for the secretary?

I studied the various buttons on the intercom unit above the patient’s bed. There was a red one (that one looked scary) and several small round ones (those seemed insignificant), and a prominent blue one. That button looked important.

I decided that the big blue button would get the secretary. It looked like it would get someone’s attention, anyway.

And indeed it did.

Tip to new nurses: In a hospital setting, never do a little mental-shrug and push a blue button to see who might answer. It’s pretty much guaranteed that any blue button will get you way more attention than you intended.

I pushed the blue button, and an alarm immediately sounded. Code Blue!

A Code Blue is a hospital emergency, signaling that someone’s heart or breathing has stopped. Every health care professional will rush in to help save the life. I stepped back, horrified. What had I done?

The secretary answered immediately. “What’s going on in there?” she demanded. Our patients were generally healthy. How could there be a Code Blue?

“I . . . I need some apple juice,” I answered weakly.

Apple juice?!” the secretary shouted. “You need more than that! We’re sending the code cart!”

“No!“ I protested, but she had hung up. Did I think to reset the big blue button? Push it again, turn off the alarm? No. I was in a panic.

I yanked open the patient’s door. The hallway was eerily empty. I stood there stupidly for a long moment, heart pounding, and suddenly every door into that hallway burst open. Nurses poured out of rooms, doctors materialized, aides raced around corners, pharmacists and respiratory therapists appeared. The hallway was suddenly packed with jostling health care professionals trundling emergency equipment, everyone streaming with swift and focused determination in my direction. All eyes converged on me, standing in the doorway under the urgently flashing light.

I was frantically waving them off.

“I . . . I just need some apple juice!”

The whole assembly ground to a stop. Mouths dropped open in disbelief. Eyes swiveled silently and accusingly to my unfortunate preceptor. She set her mouth grimly. “I’ll take care of it,” she announced to the crowd, striding into the room to flip off the Code Blue button. “Carol, come in here!” she snapped.

I followed her meekly. If I’d had a tail, it would have been between my legs. But when I arrived at her side, she gave me an unexpected smile and a friendly little eye-roll.

“Perhaps I should show you the intercom system,” she said.

We all have lessons to learn. Take it from me: Blue buttons are not for apple juice.

4 Comments A Nursing Story: Code Blue!

  1. shelly heleniak

    This was a wondrrful story of, coursge, love, joy, helping, comforting and Lol…. laughter, not at you ,but how cute you must of looked at that moment. I’ve worked plenty of times once you became an RN in the Surgery department at a hospital i worked at, and you are a Rockin Awesome RN ! Very proud to work next to you, as im a Certified Nurse Assistant. . 🙂

    1. Carol

      Shelley! Thank you!

      Number one: yes, everyone is laughing AT me. I understand, it’s okay. I deserved it.

      Number two: Thank you for your kind words about my eventual nursing skills.

      Number three, most important: You, my friend, are one smokin’-hot Certified Nursing Assistant. LOVED LOVED LOVED working with you. Bonus: you never do anything stupid like me. 🙂

  2. Karen Gake

    Carol…this is such a cute story of student-nurse innocence, and how a preceptor with a kind sense of humor can change an embarrassment into a teaching moment of how to be a great preceptor. Must be where you learned your awesome preceptor skills, along with your button-pushing ability!

    1. Carol

      Thank you for calling it student-nurse innocence rather than stupidity! I was grateful my preceptor was as kind and forgiving as she was — I really thought I was going to be chewed out. The next day I had to explain the “Code Blue” to the department manager. *Squirm*

      I took a special class in school called “Pushing Karen’s Buttons.” It’s my specialty. 🙂


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