Morning Worship


At 8:00 a.m., I tune the television to Rev. Charles Stanley and his Baptist Church in Atlanta. The choir is ranked large and singing “Holy, holy, holy” when a female voice by my door yells “Call a code!”

The single/isolation rooms are in clusters of three, with their doors inches apart, on the corners of each floor. My neighbor has just died and is not wearing a Do Not Resuscitate bracelet.

There is the swift swish of medical equipment being pushed into his/her room, then relative silence. The rooms are sufficiently soundproof that only cries of pain can be heard—and this person is not currently in any pain. The housekeeper comes in to my room and announces that she is closing my door. “No,” I tell her, “you are not.”

In a few minutes, I hear the voice of my aide, Anitra. She is 37 years old and has the calm quietude that is more often found in black women than white women. Most black women learn at an early age that life is tough and carrying it all to God is the only way you’ll make it through.

A security guard’s radio blats information. The standard code response team includes at least nurses, doctors, somebody from Respiratory, probably a phlebotomist, the nursing supervisor, and a security guard. The nursing supervisor stands back and watches to make sure her staff is performing properly. The security guard is there for crowd control, gently and firmly moving distraught family out of the way of the medical staff.

At 8:20 a.m., Anitra returns to our doors and says, “The elevator is here—are you ready?” The patient has been successfully resuscitated. In my mind’s eye, the bed and its accessories are unplugged from the wall; the bed is maneuvered, with difficulty, out of the small room.

The portable cardiac monitor is laid on the patient’s legs; IV bags are hanging, the essential members of the medical team surround the bed and push it down to the waiting extra-wide elevator and whisk it off to the Intensive Care Unit where the patient will be put on telemetry and questions will be asked: did she/he throw a blood clot? Was too much medication administered? What happened to cause the crash?

My last near-presence to a cardiac code call was on inpatient psychiatry at St. Joseph’s Hospital. The patient was an elderly man and the psychiatrist had so over-medicated him that his heart stopped. The patient was resuscitated and the doctor went on prescribing. Standard practice is to blame the idiosyncrasies of the patient, not the poor judgment of the physician.

Rev. Stanley talks about why God’s son was not born in a palace, but a barn, and I fall into my first nap of the day.

Later, I ask Anitra for a shower. She says, “Are you sure you want me? I’ve already had two codes this morning.” I assure her that she needs to do my shower and have me come out of it just fine so she’ll know it’s not her causing the codes.

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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