Rare cardiac arrest in Good Samaritan’s PACU has a happy ending
By Cheryl Reid-Simons
Kenneth Kitchens went to MultiCare Good Samaritan Hospital to have bone spurs and arthritis in his right foot and ankle fixed up.
He left with broken ribs, and for that, he’s incredibly grateful. Well, not exactly grateful for the painful chest, but for what caused it — chest compressions to save his life.
In the recovery room shortly after his Feb. 22 surgery, Kitchens went into cardiac arrest.
“I was just coming to and I felt my chest tighten up,” he recalls. “I remember them putting two nitro tabs under my tongue. I don’t remember anything more until I woke up and there were people standing all around me.”
What he didn’t know was that he’d gone into cardiac arrest, requiring chest compressions and an electrical shock to get his heart pumping properly.
“The first words out of his mouth were ‘What the (heck) are all these people doing here?!’” says Maribeth Ingemansen, RN, BSN, Clinical Manager for Perioperative Services at Good Samaritan, recalls.
‘As smooth as it could go’
Kitchens credits the staff’s training and quick action with not just saving his life but also keeping the event from damaging his heart permanently.
“We were busy,” Ingemansen says, with multiple patients in various stages of recovery from surgery and staff attending to them.
While problems occurring after surgery aren’t unheard of, they’re usually slower to develop. Patients may be slow to wake up and need to be re-intubated or perhaps have to go back into surgery because of bleeding. A true cardiac arrest like what Kitchens’ experienced “is very rare.”
“He was talking to his nurse one minute and then out,” Ingemansen says. “His eyes rolled back and he was in v-fib arrest.”
That nurse, Trisha, immediately called for a crash cart while her colleague, Lisa Corkum, began chest compressions. All nurses in the recovery area are trained in advanced cardiac life support, Ingemansen explains.
“We do mock codes; we practice,” she says.
But very rarely do they put that practice to use because a full cardiac arrest just doesn’t happen very often in the post-anesthesia care unit (PACU).
That practice is crucial because every second counts, Ingemansen says.
“Your success is much better if you start compressions quickly,” she explains.
In Kitchens’ case, the compressions started almost immediately. Within a few minutes of compressions and one electrical shock, his heart was beating well again and he went to the cardiac cath lab where the team was able to remove the clot that had apparently caused the problem.
“It was as smooth as it can go,” Ingemansen says. “Within a minute he had four anesthesiologists and a surgeon at his side.”
‘Couldn’t ask for a better bunch of people’
Meanwhile, in the waiting room, Kitchens’ wife Christina knew only that the surgery itself had taken more than twice as long as expected. Then Ingemansen and an anesthesiologist came to talk to her.
“They brought me back into this room and I thought, ‘Oh crap, we’ve got a problem here,’” Christina recalls. “I started breaking down. Then the PACU nurse said ‘He’s alive. He made it. We saved him.’”
Soon Ingemansen took her back to see her husband and the nurses who helped save his life. Christina hugged Corkum, who had done the actual chest compressions.
“I almost didn’t want to let go,” Christina says.
Kitchens had planned to go home the same day as his surgery, but naturally that wasn’t in the cards after his near-death experience. Once the cardiac cath lab took care of the clot and he was admitted, the doctors and nurses from the recovery room began coming by to visit.
“Almost everybody in that recovery room came up to check on me,” he says. “It was wonderful. I couldn’t ask for a better bunch of people.”
Ingemansen says that while people think medical professionals take things like Kitchens’ cardiac arrest in stride, it actually affects them deeply. But to care for the other patients depending on them they simply have to remain calm. When their shift was over, they all wanted to check in on the man who gave them such a scare — and put their training to good use.
“I was so happy to see him look so good,” she says. “You train and train and to be able to put your training into real-life use is gratifying. But to see him looking like nothing had happened? That’s the best part of nursing right there.”
Though he says everyone wanted to know if he saw a bright light or hovered above his body, Kitchens says he doesn’t remember anything about the few minutes when his heart had stopped pumping blood. And he doesn’t remember all the names of the people who helped him from the recovery room to the cath lab to his discharge into rehab for his foot.
But he does have one other-worldly fact he wants to share:
“All of those people are angels,” Kitchens says. “I can’t tell you who they are but they’ve all got wings and halos.”