K. Uwe Dunn

It all begins with an idea.

No Code


(Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals).

No code and cremated.

Not only do I want to be left dead, but I want them to throw me in the fire to make sure. 

Burn me to a crisp, to ashes.

And you’d want the same, too, if you saw what I did. 

I saw a person come back to life. 

She was dead. Real dead. 

Eyes open. Pupils dilated. Skin pale. Nothing moving. No pulse. No respirations. 

And it wasn’t just for a few seconds. We’re talking minutes. Around twenty minutes.

But she was a code. Amazingly, Martin, a fellow CNA, had Vickie’s code status memorized. The RN, Robin, asked and he knew right away. 

Yep. She’s a full code, he said. 

Her next question: does anybody know CPR?

She had worked in a cardiac unit for fifteen years. 

She knew exactly what to do.

I stood there and didn’t move.

I don’t remember who grabbed the crash cart, but Amanda, a CNA whose mom is an EMT, took the ambu bag and began squeezing it. Martin started chest compressions. 

Hand over hand, arms locked, bouncing up and down, working his heart to restart hers.

When he got tired, Amanda took over.

She said a rib cracked, two, and then eventually three. 

I don’t know if I was in the room at that point, as I didn’t hear any.

But she said she could feel them breaking. And she heard them crack.

I had learned CPR in class, but I had never seen it done live before. If no one else had jumped into action, I would have done it, I think. But since Amanda and Martin were so proactive, I didn’t need to be. 

Later I would feel guilty, guilty that in the crucial moment, in the call to action, I was hesitant.

At least I didn’t panic. And I didn’t run. 

I stayed in the room and remained calm and there was a role for me.

Robin told me to clear the room for the EMTs. I moved the bedside tables and chairs into the hall. I pushed the other bed against the wall. 

Then she told me to run and get the stethoscope.

When the EMTs came, all three big, strong, heavy people, dressed in navy, they took over. 

It had been about twenty minutes now.

I thought for sure there was no chance. I didn’t know how long they would go on for before they gave up. 

To me, it looked like a corpse bouncing, or a mannequin.

How long do you beat a dead resident?

And then she started breathing. They got a pulse. 

She hadn’t regained consciousness. She was alive, technically, but in what capacity?

She would most certainly be brain damaged if not completely brain dead. 

I wondered what kind of activity, if any, was still going on in her head. 

A spark here, a quiver there, a childhood memory from the sixties.

How much of Vickie was still left?

Amanda and Martin were heroes, as far as I was concerned.

They had saved her life. 

They were champs. 

They jumped right in without hesitation and started doing CPR. 

I made sure to tell everyone who would listen. 

Together, they were voted employees of the month.

Neither of them had ever done something like that before. They had never done chest compressions on a live person. 

Nobody thought she was coming back, but she did. 

We held hands. Martin said a prayer. Everybody cried except me. I don’t know why.

But I made sure to say, later, after things had settled down, with no uncertainty, I want to be a no code. If I’m ever that dead, and she was fucking dead, man, don’t bring me back. Leave me dead. Let me go.

The broken ribs would suck. The pain would probably be horrible. But it wasn’t that. It was you don’t really come back from that, and if you do, in what kind of state? 

Imagining myself at varying degrees of brain dead was a terrible thing: lying in bed, drooling, hooked up to a ventilator. 

The gray area of what it means to be alive.

How much would still be me?

No thoughts. No memories. 

Maybe some flashes of dreams.

I didn’t want to think.

And then I wanted to be burned just to make sure. 

To make sure there was absolutely no brain activity.

No sparks of life. 

No low-level consciousness. 

Just ashes. 

It was the same fear that inspired the grave bells, taphophobia, the fear of being buried alive. 

Pull the string. Ring, ring, ring.

“Saved by the bell.”

I told my wife I wanted “No Code” tattooed on my chest. 

She said EMTs, like employers, like the elderly, don’t respect tattoos. 

“What?” I said. That’s ridiculous.

I know. I know. 

I might do it anyway and campaign to get the rules changed. 

God forbid, but when the EMTs cut my shirt open, I want them to get a definite message. 





If there’s nothing left, there’s nothing left. 

What font would be best?

Usually I prefer cursive but, in this situation, I don’t think that would be ideal. 

We’re not going for finesse, for pretty.

It should be something big, something bold, something that screams.

Clarity and emphasis are key.

NO CODE doesn’t work.

Neither does No Code.

Too fancy.

What about bold?


There. That’s it. 

Thick, black emphasis. 

NO CODE right over the breastbone.

Let me lie.

Leave me be.

Let whatever happens next happen to me.

She was fuckin’ dead, man.

K. Uwe Dunn is a certified nurse aide who lives in central Pennsylvania with his wife, Isabella. He has a bachelor’s degree in English literature, a master’s in painting, and is fluent in the German language. His work has been featured in several literary journals and magazines, including The Northern Virginia Review, and he has been nominated for The Pushcart Prize by both Kestrel: A Journal of Literature and Art and The Petigru Review.