Between Reason and Panic

December 1, 2008
Richard M. Berlin, MD

Volume 25, Issue 14

One minute she's breathing room air and the next you're barking orders at a team wheeling in a crash cart. You review signs and symptoms you missed, the rough rhythm of her heart before she coded. You want to believe your reasoning was as elegant as a glass filled with cabernet, and you want to forget the bottle you imagine resting on a tray table at forty thousand feet, ready to tumble when the captain announces the plane is diving for an unscheduled stop. But I don't need images of air disasters to convince you doctors live somewhere between reason and panic: just flip open your laryngoscope, visualize the vocal chords, and forget you have fifteen seconds to thread the tube before the breathless body on the bed turns blue.

One minute she's breathing room air
and the next you're barking orders
at a team wheeling in a crash cart.
You review signs and symptoms you missed,
the rough rhythm of her heart before she coded.
You want to believe your reasoning
was as elegant as a glass filled with cabernet,
and you want to forget the bottle you imagine
resting on a tray table at forty thousand feet,
ready to tumble when the captain announces
the plane is diving for an unscheduled stop.
But I don't need images of air disasters
to convince you doctors live
somewhere between reason and panic:
just flip open your laryngoscope, visualize
the vocal chords, and forget you have
fifteen seconds to thread the tube before
the breathless body on the bed turns blue.