Who disconnected the ventilator

Something was amiss, the ventilator was disconnected.

The respiratory therapist burst into tears, “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean it. I panicked and wasn’t thinking straight. Please forgive me.”  The detective turned to the police officer, “Cuff her and take her away.”

By Israel Zwick,  March 31, 2020

The following story is fictional.  It might be improbable, but not impossible.

The bad news traveled quickly around the ICU.  Mrs. Berger had just expired.  It’s not like it was a big surprise.  She was 82 years old, diabetic, and was on blood pressure medication.  She had been on the ventilator for two weeks and was not showing signs of progress.  Nevertheless, the ICU staff had become attached to her.  She was such a nice, sweet, old lady – always kind to the staff and never demanding.  She had difficulty speaking, so she wrote notes. “Don’t worry about me, I’ll be OK. Take care of yourself. You look tired. Go take a rest. You’re so young, you still need to get married and have children.”

Maria Bonacci, one of the respiratory therapists was asked to disconnect the equipment so that it could be used for the next patient. When she went to the bed, she noticed something strange.  The power cord was disconnected from the back of the ventilator but was still connected to the power strip.  “That’s strange,” she thought, “the usual protocol is to disconnect the cord from the power strip, not from the ventilator.  I better tell Dr. Neumann.”  She approached Dr. Neumann, the attending pulmonologist, and told him what she had found.  “Do you realize the gravity of what you are suggesting? You better be sure about it.”   “I’m not sure about it, I’m just troubled by it, so I thought I would mention it.”    Dr. Neumann suggested that Juan Garcia, the other therapist on duty, should take a look for a second opinion.  When Juan saw it, he responded, “I’m not sure.  Maybe you should call a forensic pathologist. He might shed some more light on it.”  About a half-hour later, Dr. Chen, the forensic pathologist, came over to examine the body.  “I’m not sure, but from a cursory examination, the cause of death seems to be more consistent with a sudden loss of oxygen as in strangulation, rather than a gradual loss as in drowning. I would have to do an autopsy to be sure.”   “That’s out of the question,” responded Dr. Neumann, “Mrs. Berger was an Orthodox Jew and it’s strictly forbidden.”   Dr. Chen seemed a little startled and replied, “Well then it’s out of my hands, I suggest that you call NYPD.”

About an hour later Detective Finley walked in with police officer Hussein.  “I want a list of the entire staff that was here at the time of death,” the detective demanded.    Dr. Neumann replied that there were only three therapists on duty at the time, Maria Bonacci, Juan Garcia, and Joan Stanislovicz.  “Get them over here,” Finley ordered, “I want to talk to them.”  They all approached the detective, but before he could say anything, the red lights started flashing.  A new patient was coming in with severe respiratory distress. As they brought her in, the observant detective noticed the name on the video display, “Valerie Stanislovicz.”   “That’s unusual,” he remarked, “it’s not a common name.”

Joan suddenly burst into tears, “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean it.  My brother called me that his wife was having difficulty breathing and he was going to bring her to the ER to be tested for COVID-19.  She’s only 47 and has young children. I panicked because we’re short on ventilators.  I wasn’t thinking straight.  Mrs. Berger didn’t seem like she was going to make it.  I’m so, so sorry. Please forgive me.”

The detective turned to the police officer, “Cuff her and take her away.”  “Wait,” screamed Dr. Neumann, “she’s one of my best therapists, she works long hours and has saved many lives. I can’t afford to lose her; lives will be lost.  Can’t you see how remorseful she is?  Couldn’t you just overlook this one?”     “I have no choice,” Detective Finley replied, “she just admitted to manslaughter in front of five witnesses, I have to bring her in. She has a clean record so we can arrange bail and she’ll be back tomorrow morning.”

Detective Finley and Officer Hussein escorted Joan out the door as the ambulance sirens continued to blare.

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