Saleh Aldasouqi, MD, FACE, ECNU, is professor of medicine and chief of the endocrinology division at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine in East Lansing. His writing combines insights from his years of caring for patients and training physicians in the U.S. and internationally.

“From the Doctor’s Bag” is a blog about topics at the intersection of humanities and medicine — topics without a P-value or area under the curve. It takes a mostly lighthearted view of issues that affect health care providers as professionals and members of society, parents, siblings, spouses, neighbors or friends.

BLOG: Who called the code blue?

The patient in the ICU was feeling progressively short of breath. She later said she felt like she was drowning with fluid in her respiratory passages. She felt like she was going to die. She knew that if she did not push the “code blue” button, she would die.

Soon, a “code blue” alert went out. The code team arrived quickly, as they were in a nearby room in the ICU.

The patient was clearly in impending arrest: The code team resuscitated the patient. She survived.

As the code team rushed into the patient’s room, one of the team’s members asked: “But who called the code?”

The patient said, “I did.”

A “code blue” is usually used in hospitals and additionally in some sophisticated clinics or health care institutions or facilities that have a “code team” on board. Most typically, a code blue is called when a patient in the hospital has a cardiac or respiratory arrest or less commonly when a patient’s condition deteriorates severely to the extent that the health care personnel believe the patient may deteriorate further (an imminent arrest).

Immediately, once a code blue is called to a hospital’s operator, a loud announcement will be heard on a hospital’s overhead speakers. Everyone will hear the emergency call. Code blue is typically called by a health care professional.

In this case I just described, the patient wrote later:

“As I drowned, my vision tunneled, until all I could see was a small circle above the head of my bed. My eyes focused on a small blue square button, labelled CODE BLUE. The universal alarm would activate the code team in the event of a dying patient. I struggled to raise my arm and pressed it. Within seconds, the team rushed in. They had been rounding just feet away, oblivious to my distress. The first two to arrive looked at each other, and one of them asked, “But who called the code?” before quickly realizing that was, in fact, not the most pressing issue. They worked quickly, almost wordlessly, with a grace that suggested it had been choreographed. A tube was placed to decompress my stomach, a higher level of supplemental oxygen was supplied. A portable chest X-ray was shot. A wordless decision was made to drain the effusion surrounding my right lung, and a thick needle entered my chest wall like a dart. They attached a catheter to a vacuum bottle, and I watched as liters of foamy red liquid drained.... within minutes, I could breathe again. “I called the code,” I said, addressing their forgotten question.