Vander Linde, a nurse, tried three other compartments that would normally contain vials of morphine or another painkiller, hydromorphone. Empty. Empty. Empty.
The staff was bracing for a busy weekend. Temperatures were forecast for the 90s and summer is a busy time for hospital emergency departments — the time of year when injuries rise from bike accidents, car crashes, broken bottles and gunshots.
At Chicago’s Norwegian American Hospital and other emergency departments around the country, doctors and nurses have been struggling for months without crucial drugs like morphine, which is used to ease the pain of injuries like broken bones, or diltiazem, a heart drug. Norwegian has been out of morphine since March, and the shortages are part of a nagging problem that has intensified this year as a rash of decades-old staples became scarce.
Hospitals small and large have been scrambling to come up with alternatives to these standbys, with doctors and nurses dismayed to find that some patients must suffer through pain, or risk unusual reactions to alternative drugs that aren’t the best option.
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