A Sadder Stabbed Heart

By Redmer Hoekstra

When I got a call one morning at 06h00 to notify me of a stabbed heart in Trauma, I was not filled with trepidation like the last time I received such a call. I thought, “I’ve done this before. I know what to do.”

But I did also get the call while I was busy crushing an arresting person’s ribs, so it took me a while to get to him.

When I arrived in Trauma, the stabbed patient had also arrested. The Trauma docs were already doing compressions. We put in a chest drain. We got him back for a few minutes. I called to theatre, but they were already scrubbed on another emergency. Our hospital only has one emergency theatre after-hours.

As the most junior in the room, I ran to blood bank to get emergency blood.

While I was away, our patient coded again. The doctors and nurses in Trauma resuscitated, again. One of my seniors briefly scrubbed out of theatre to perform an emergency thoracotomy.

We lost the patient.

It’s what I get for thinking, “I’ve got this”.

Every patient is different. This one was a little older than the last one. Maybe his reserves weren’t as good. There was delay in getting him to hospital – not much, but some.

Strangely, the thing that broke me was the blood-bank technician’s response when I returned the unused blood to her and told her that the patient demised.

“I’m so sorry. I thought I was fast enough.”

I told her it was not her fault – how could it be? And she had been fast. But I don’t know if she believed me.

And so we all carry the burden of the patients we lose.


  1. Kim Stone says:

    I love this post! I really understand it because I am one of those Blood Bank Techs. We are the forgotten team members in the hospitals. We are the Clinical Laboratory Scientists, aka, Medical Technologists, aka Lab Techs or Lab Rats. I have been in the field for 32 years now and I absolutely love my profession. I have a BS in Medical Technology and am also a Registered Nurse. I left the lab briefly to pursue nursing but found myself getting too involved with the patient or people aspects of that career. I couldn’t leave it at the door when there was a face attached to the specimen. We are behind the scenes and when the general public think of labs they immediately think of phlebotomists. They are another unsung hero (without them I couldn’t do my job).

    Thank you for recognizing one of us and understanding that we too share the burden when a life is lost. I wear bracelet that says “Every number is a life” to remind my co-workers and the newbies that the job we do is vital and accuracy is paramount.

    1. barefootmegz says:

      Oh Kim – thank you for sharing your story! I want to wear a bracelet like that too: where did you get yours?

      1. Kim Stone says:

        I received mine in a National Laboratory Week package a few years ago. I would be honored to mail the extra one I have to you! Let me know where to mail it and I will get it to you ASAP.

        I love your blog and read faithfully. I am also an avid reader and take your book recommendations to heart. Just finished reading Working Stiff by Judy Melinek and it was a learning experience.

      2. barefootmegz says:

        Oh my, that would be so awesome. I’ll send you an email soon. I’m so glad to “meet” you. I’ve never read Working Stiff, but I’ll check it out!

  2. A says:

    (Also) beautiful. Thank you for sharing this really tough experience with us. ❤

  3. DoctorHaylee says:

    I’m sorry this person didn’t make it 😦 What a difficult thing, right?
    I think if I had that interaction with the blood bank worker, I would have had a cry-in-the-bathroom moment afterward. Those little realizations of the totally invested teamwork in tragedy and success are heartbreaking sometimes. Thanks for sharing.

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