Five Nurses on a Dark Mountain Road Doing What Nurses Do
One nurses's true story of a horrific accident that occurred on a winding mountain road, and the nurses who showed up to help.
My family was returning from a weekend in the mountains, all packed snugly into our white minivan. My boyfriend was at the wheel. Music was playing and I was trying to focus on that, and not on the road. This twists and turns road has always made me nervous, no matter how many times I have traveled it since childhood. Running through Reservation land and firmly out of cell-phone range, one side of this two-lane switchback road through the mountains is sheer rock and the other side drop several hundred feet to the bottom of the canyon.
The sun had set and we were guided only by the reflective paint of the road and the side rails on the drop-off side. Blind turns made occasional headlights of cars suddenly appear in front of us. As we went around one such turn, a pickup truck going in the opposite direction flashed its headlights at us, warning us of something ahead. My boyfriend slowed down.
As we turned the corner I saw through the darkness a white minivan on its side in front of us, its front window smashed out. It had come to rest firmly against a side rail, the only thing keeping it from tumbling into the darkness below. I saw another smashed vehicle sitting in the middle of the road. There were about ten people who had already parked and gotten out to try to help. There were no reassuring flashing lights of an ambulance. There was a lone patrol car, and one officer waving his flashlight to stop any traffic trying to drive through the scene.
I didn't even question it. I had to help. As soon as our van stopped and I saw that the road was clear, I threw on my coat and stepped out into the sharp wind and ran to the van. I said, "I'm a nurse! Can I help?" One of the women by the van introduced herself as a trauma nurse, the other was a neonatology nurse. She said the patrol car had just called for help, but it would be awhile before they could reach us. The woman in the van was unreachable. She was talking to us through the shattered windshield and said it hurt to breathe. Someone had a flashlight shining on her face from time to time to check her color. Still good. She asked me to check on the man in the other car.
The whole front end of the car was smashed in and his legs were trapped. The steering wheel was firmly against his chest. Another man appeared and said he, too, was a nurse-- ER in a local town down up the mountain. Our patient was moaning and pale, and not oriented. I crawled into the passenger side and used a flashlight to assess as much of him as I could see, which was not much. He had a large deep laceration on his head. And then another nurse appeared and identified herself as such. Within ten minutes of being there on this road in the middle of nowhere, there were five nurses on the scene.
An hour went by on this dark cold mountain. Another patrol car showed up but no ambulances. The hour seemed like an eternity. There was no oxygen available, no monitors, no medical supplies. Just our presence. We were told that two ambulances and two helicopters had been dispatched. We kept talking to the two trapped people, reassuring them that they were not alone, and help was coming. The trauma nurse was truly amazing. She directed the rest of us on how to help and kept running between the two cars.
As the roads above and below the accident backed up with cars, people ran to the perimeter offering blankets, water, and flashlights, being careful to stay out of the way of those who were working. The two trapped people were covered in blankets and jackets to keep as warm as possible.
Finally, we heard helicopters. Their lights shone down as people moved their cars to make room both above and below the cliff at two hairpin turns where they could land. Then the first ambulance arrived and paramedics, and oxygen! Relief!
A generator was set up and two jaws of life started to work on the two vehicles. I was asked to help, and for awhile I was in charge of the oxygen tank and holding the vital signs monitor to the side of the jaws of life. But as more help arrived and took over, I stepped to the side and stayed out of the way. Finally, the man was free of his car. He coded as soon as they put him on the stretcher. They took him to the ambulance and worked on him for a very long time, but he didn't make it.
After two hours, the woman was still trapped in the van but alive. Someone had broken through the back window to let themselves inside to start an IV and oxygen on her. The van rocked precariously as the person walked through it to reach her. I looked down the cliff to the winding road below and saw miles of head lights waiting below.Even though I was no longer helping, our van was not going anywhere. At least I could still do something. I could pray.
Three hours in, those of us no longer needed received permission from a trooper to slowly drive around one of the helicopters and out of the canyon. My boyfriend, who had been sitting with the kids in the van the whole time, saw us safely home just after midnight.
As I warmed up in my bed, cocooned in layers of blankets, I kept replaying the scene over and over. Five nurses. Within minutes there were five nurses who appeared on this dark mountain road. Five nurses who stayed on duty until it was time to hand off our patients, and then disappeared quietly and anonymously into the night. Not heroes. Just five nurses, doing what nurses do.
Last edit by tnbutterfly on Jan 28
About anon456, BSN, RN
Anon456 has been a member of allnurses since nursing school. She traded in her PICU badge to become hospice nurse two years ago.
Joined Apr '10; Posts: 1,126; Likes: 2,808.Jan 27I think things do occur spontaneously and ideopathically, if you will...but this defies coincidence for all these nurses to be happening along at the same time so it's my belief, with no disrespect to others who might feel the contrary, God placed you guys there to be His hands at that exact moment in time and at that exact place in time. anon456, yes, you and the other 4 nurses were "handpicked" by God Himself...wow!
People of all walks of life, colors, shapes, backgrounds, languages, beliefs, political views, or even old rednecks like myself, are all bonded as "one" when they become a nurse, and yes, "do what nurses."
Well written...thank you for sharing this heart wrenching yet tender story.Jan 27Angels in human clothing. There are NO coincidences. God bless and keep the man who didn't make it to the end of the mountain.Jan 28I was in an accident. I wasn't critically injured and I was very close to medical care, but it was still so very nice to have a nurse with me while I waited for EMS to arrive. I was with it enough to say I hadn't hit my head or lost consciousness and expressed appropriate concern about my injury (and not something a typical layperson would think about), but I was still out of it and in shock. Without pictures I couldn't tell you what area of my car took the most damage, what airbags deployed (apparently they all did), and I didn't have the slightest thought about getting out of the vehicle because of fire risk, etc.
Thank you for everything you did. I have a small first aid kit that I keep in my car (mainly for tossing in my hiking pack- it really wouldn't be much help for a major accident except give me a pair of gloves to wear), a cpr mask, water, and blankets that I hope I never need to use in an emergency situation.Jan 28Thank you for reading. It happened one week ago today. I wrote this to debrief originally the day after the accident. I had called in sick to process this and it did take me all day to let go of it piece by piece. But then I wanted to share it because it was indeed a miracle that so many nurses were on site within a short time. I feel proud to be a nurse. We give of ourselves daily at work, and off duty, too. My preceptor intold me that nursing is not just what we do for a living-- it's who we are. :-)Last edit by anon456 on Jan 28Jan 29Thanks for all you did. The person who passed wasn't alone while waiting for EMS. It must have been a huge comfort for him. Amazing how you just came together even though you didn't know each other and we're all various specialties. Just wow.Jan 29Thank you for sharing! It's kind of a miracle that five of you with all different specialties were there when and where you were needed.Jan 29Quote from anon456I couldn't have said it better!Thank you for reading. It happened one week ago today. I wrote this to debrief originally the day after the accident. I had called in sick to process this and it did take me all day to let go of it piece by piece. But then I wanted to share it because it was indeed a miracle that so many nurses were on site within a short time. I feel proud to be a nurse. We give of ourselves daily at work, and off duty, too. My preceptor intold me that nursing is not just what we do for a living-- it's who we are. :-)Jan 29Quote from anon456Ugh...How far from home was this? Any chance you can access Critical Incident Debriefing with the local team? I was 2nd on scene last year to one of my students and (and family friend). Many local conncections with PD, Fire and EMS. I was invited to their debriefing and I found it very helpul. As there were 5 of you, is reaching out the lcoal authority an option? Possibly they can connect you to the appropriate recources?Thank you for reading. It happened one week ago today. I wrote this to debrief originally the day after the accident. I had called in sick to process this and it did take me all day to let go of it piece by piece. But then I wanted to share it because it was indeed a miracle that so many nurses were on site within a short time. I feel proud to be a nurse. We give of ourselves daily at work, and off duty, too. My preceptor in nursing school told me that nursing is not just what we do for a living-- it's who we are. :-)Jan 29Our skills we carry with us is a gift that is to be put to good use, in this case that is what exactly happened.
Once a debriefing happens we can masticate on what went wrong what went right and what we can do better in the future and modify our training to meet our goal in helping.
Kudos to all who stopped to render aid, what wonderful human beings we work with!Jan 29When I was a teenager I was in an accident and one of the first people on the scene was a nurse. I don't know who they were and I have no memory of the incident, but I was told later that she was on her way home from work, saw the accident, and stopped to perform CPR.Jan 30This is actually a great idea to have asked if there was a debriefing offered by one of the Rescue Services.There were at least three different companies involved in the rescue... The two helicopters were from two different companies, and at least one of the ambulances was from the tribal service. It's too bad the nurses that showed up didn't exchange information so we could debrief amongst ourselves. Hopefully this will never happen again, but if I find myself in a similar situation I might just do that.Jan 30Quote from anon456If it is not too far it might be worth it to see what they may receommend. Sounds like yo are in a good place, as I thought I was a year ago. Some days not so sure....This is actually a great idea to have asked if there was a debriefing offered by one of the Rescue Services.There were at least three different companies involved in the rescue... The two helicopters were from two different companies, and at least one of the ambulances was from the tribal service. It's too bad the nurses that showed up didn't exchange information so we could debrief amongst ourselves. Hopefully this will never happen again, but if I find myself in a similar situation I might just do that.
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