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Julia Zelixon had just gathered the dozen or more drugs she would need for her new patient when four nurses and doctors in blue surgical scrubs, caps, and masks wheeled the tiny, gaunt woman into room 402.

Unconscious in the big hospital bed, Kathleen looked almost childlike, but she was perilously close to death following emergency abdominal surgery. One nurse hand-pumped oxygen into her lungs while an anesthesiologist warned Julia and the other nurses in the surgical intensive care unit that a key oxygen sensor had fallen off Kathleen's finger.





''We lost the SAT on the elevator," the anesthesiologist said, referring to the clip-on device.

For Julia, this would be a critical test. A ''sick admit" like Kathleen arrives on short notice from an accident scene or emergency surgery, often ailing in so many ways at once that it can test the judgment of even an experienced nurse -- and Julia was only months out of nursing school.

From the moment she laid eyes on Kathleen, she felt uncertain what to do.

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