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What to Do When a Patient Has a ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ Tattoo

A man with a Do Not Resuscitate tattoo. The signature has been blurred out.

“We’ve always joked about this, but holy crap, this man actually did it.”
Earlier this May, Gregory Holt had just finished doing the morning rounds at Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital, when he got a call about a new patient in the emergency room. He went down with seven colleagues to find an unconscious 70-year-old man with breathing problems and signs of septic shock. He was alone and had no identification. His blood was full of alcohol, and its pressure was dropping. And when the doctors peeled back his shirt, they found a tattoo, running along his collarbones.


The NOT was underlined. There was a signature under the final word.

Holt was shocked. “We’ve always joked about this, but holy crap, this man actually did it,” he says. “You look at it, laugh a little, and then go: Oh no, I actually have to deal with this.”

By default, doctors would treat patients in this man’s condition as if they were “full code”—that is, they’d want everything possible done to prolong their life. “When faced with uncertainty, you pick the choice that’s not irreversible,” Holt explains. “So let’s do everything we can and when the dust settles, we can determine what the patient wanted if it wasn’t clear from the beginning. The tattoo threw a monkey wrench into the decision.”

In Florida, patients can ask not to be resuscitated by filling in an official form and printing it on yellow paper. (Yes, it has to be yellow.) Only then is it legally valid. Clearly, a tattoo doesn’t count. And yet, the patient had clearly gone through unusual effort to make his wishes known. The team members debated what to do, and while opinions differed, “we were all unanimous in our confusion,” says Holt.

Read more at the Atlantic –


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