Code blue is nursing talk for “life-or-death situation.” It’s what happens when a patient’s vital signs suddenly take a turn for the worse and immediate action can mean the difference between a recovery and a funeral. And for a young undergraduate nursing student, it can be absolutely terrifying.
Danielle Shkapich experienced her first code blue in a classroom simulation in Brigham Young University’s Spencer W. Kimball Building. The patient on that occasion was a very lifelike dummy that spoke, had a pulse, and responded to students’ attempts to save it.
Three weeks later, Danielle experienced the real thing.
“I was doing clinicals at Promise Hospital of Salt Lake, which is a long-term intensive care facility,” she says. “There was this one patient who was in a coma, but we’d been starting to get a little better response from him.
“One night, at about 3:00 a.m., we saw on the monitor that his heart rate began to plummet, and five of us nurses rushed into his room to determine what was happening. His blood pressure was dropping rapidly, and his temperature was high. We knew he was going to go into septic shock and we needed to get fluids into his veins, but we couldn’t find a vein.”
With a patient on the edge of death, Danielle knew it “wasn’t the opportune time for the nursing student to ‘use her skills.’” She played a support role as the nurses found a vein and got the patient’s fluids going. Soon after, the doctor arrived, and the patient was transferred to an emergency room.
For Danielle, this faint brush with mortality cemented her resolve. She knew in that moment that she’d chosen the right career.
“It might sound morbid, but it was exciting to be in that kind of situation,” she says. “It was more than just giving medication or cleaning up after a patient. It was life or death. And for me, it was definitely a sacred experience.”
The Healer’s Art
Danielle’s parents both carry a recessive gene for cystic fibrosis, or CF - an often-fatal condition in which the lungs overgenerate mucus. Each child in her family would therefore have a 25-percent chance of being born with the disease.
Danielle, their oldest, was born without CF, but three of her four younger siblings defied the odds and were each born with the disease. Danielle grew up watching and helping as her mother provided treatments and cared for her younger brother and sisters.
“I learned that diseases don’t just affect the patient; they affect everyone,” Danielle says. “I look up to my mom more than anyone. She’s had to endure some hard things, but she went out of her way to make an incredible childhood for us.”
More than the treatments, however, Danielle remembers her home as a place of faith and love. Both of her parents worked to ensure their children grew up with a foundation built on the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Danielle applied to only one college before she graduated from high school: BYU. “I’ve always wanted to go to BYU,” she says. “I was willing to go somewhere else - if I had to - for the sake of becoming a nurse, but the reason I wanted to be in the BYU program was its emphasis on learning ‘the healer’s art.’”
Yet after completing the prerequisites, Danielle was “completely convinced” she wouldn’t make it into BYU’s highly competitive nursing program. Then, “through divine intervention,” she says, she was accepted. And she even received a nursing scholarship soon after entering the program.
“I remember seeing that scholarship letter and immediately saying a prayer to my Heavenly Father because He was providing a way for me to do the things I wanted to do,” she says. “The next thing I did was call my mom.
“I didn’t have a scholarship when I was accepted into BYU. But the scholarship I received in the nursing program made all the difference because of how rigorous the program is. I want to be the best nurse I can be coming out of school, and this scholarship meant I didn’t have to work quite as much to pay for school. That helped a lot with my ability to manage my time and handle the stress.”
Just a few months ago, Danielle graduated from BYU and left Provo for Arizona, where her family moved while she was in college. With nothing but a licensing test left to complete, Danielle is excited to start applying “the healer’s art” in the working world.
“It’s kind of cool to think that the next time I walk into a hospital,” she says, “I’ll be an actual nurse.”