Lullaby and Stairway to Heaven

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If you are in an airport you would probably hear an announcement like this: “Flight 201 to Manila, now boarding in gate 7.”

If you are in a grocery store it maybe something like this: “Assistance needed for price check in counter 3.”

If you are in a hotel it may be similar to this: “Ms. Nely Ligaw, please meet your party at the lobby.”

Those overhead announcements are clear and you know exactly what they are calling for.

However, if you happen to visit a hospital, you may hear announcements on the public address system that you have no idea what’s going on, like: “Code Blue in room North 357.”

In case you are wondering what they are about, here are some of the announcements in the hospital and what they mean. Different hospital systems though have different codes, but here is what we have in ours.

Code Blue: a call for a patient that needs immediate attention and resuscitation, like in cardiac arrest or respiratory arrest. (From my standpoint this is the most common call I run to.)

Code Red: there is fire

Code Green: a call to help subdue a patient or somebody with aggressive or combative behavior

Code Silver: a call to find a missing patient

Code Black: there is a bomb threat

Code Pink: a call for pediatric emergency or obstetrical emergency

Of course there are also announcements that don’t need to be decoded, like “Dr. Stork, please call Labor and Delivery,” or “Level 1 Trauma in the Emergency Room now.”

Recently, our hospital adopted a practice of playing a song over the public address system that perplexed me, at least in the beginning.

I was making my hospital rounds one morning with the medical residents when a lullaby, the first riff of “Rock-a-bye Baby,” was played on the overhead paging system. Were they trying to lull the patients to sleep? But it was the wrong time of the day! A lullaby can only make me and the other doctors who are already sleep deprived, more sleepy.

The residents then told me, maybe after seeing my confused look, that the lullaby song was a public proclamation that a baby was just born. Now, it make sense. A lullaby to herald a baby into this world. Since then I have been hearing “Rock-a-bye Baby” being played overhead several times.

As we take care of the critically ill patients, especially in the ICU, and we deal more of deaths than births, my residents and I wonder if we should also play something overhead when a patient passed away, like the tolling of the bells.

A child’s birth is a happy occasion, and the hospital can be proud to announce that kind of event. I don’t think you can say the same with a patient dying. I see a reason why a hospital would not like that to be made public. Yet death is a normal occurrence, especially in the hospital, and is a reality of life.

If they would play a song for every death, then what song would it be? Maybe a bugle call like “Taps.” Or perhaps a hymn like “Nearer my God to Thee.” Or maybe a beloved song like “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

One medical intern, who is perhaps a student of classic rock, jokingly suggested “Stairway to Heaven.” I smiled at his suggestion and told him that I like his idea.

I don’t mean to disrespect the dead and their memory, nor do I mock Led Zeppelin and classic rock. My point only is that perhaps we can play something in honor of those who depart, just like we play a lullaby to welcome those who enter this world.

But maybe a lullaby can also be played for the departed, as we bid them a final goodnight.


Here’s Chloe Agnew’s (Celtic Woman) version of Brahms’s Lullaby.

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