Cool in a Crisis: Nurses Saving Lives Off the Clock

Year after year nurses are voted the most trusted professionals out there. It’s no wonder. Nurses see patients at their most vulnerable and frightened moments and take the time to make each person safer, less anxious and more comfortable. Nurses see people. And if the trust rankings are any indication, people know it. Nurses General Nursing Article


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Cool in a Crisis: Nurses Saving Lives Off the Clock

Nurses are rock stars at keeping people safe. But what happens when they go home to their normal lives? As these stories will show you, a nurse is more than just a nurse. And you don't stop being a nurse when you take your scrubs off.

Read on to hear nurses share about the times they've stepped up to the plate while off the clock. Come mayhem, catastrophe or calamity, nurses in plainclothes are all around us-and ready to act at a moment's notice.

Nurses save the day while...

Driving in the car

Anna-Marie Jenks, RN at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital in Michigan, was driving with her husband when they noticed a truck behaving erratically at high speeds. "When I looked into his car, his head was on the door window with hands off the steering wheel."

Jenks yelled for her husband to pull over. "I kind of just jumped into nursing mode and knew I needed to help him." When the truck went off the highway (thankfully into an open field) Jenks was right behind it.

"Two other people broke his window and pulled him out, laying him on a blanket." Jenks assessed him. "I could not feel a pulse, and he was not breathing. I started compressions."

For a tense round and a half of compressions, there was no change. But suddenly, he started breathing and Jenks felt his pulse return. "I held onto his wrist until the EMTs got there, so that I could feel his pulse and make sure he would be OK."

She thought she would never know the outcome, but the man survived and surprised her at work with his family. "They were so thankful," Jenks recalls. "He has a beautiful family, and I know that we will be close forever because of this."

After the moment of action, Jenks felt worried and emotional. "But in that moment, my body knew what to do, and it took over. I never asked myself if I should stop for him. I knew in my bones that I needed to."

Attending a counseling meeting

RN Michelle Katz was sitting in a marriage counselor's office when her healthy, 40-year-old husband seemed to fall asleep. "He was suddenly making this awful moaning sound when he breathed," Katz recalls. "I grabbed his hand and it was like ice."

Katz knew something was wrong. She called his name and felt for a pulse, but he was unmoving. "You could tell blood wasn't flowing to his face," she says. "It was cardiac arrest."

Katz maneuvered him onto the floor and told the counselor to call 911. When the counselor did not know what to say, Katz narrated his symptoms while starting chest compressions. "I kept thinking 'what do I do?' but the whole time, my body was acting on training and instinct. It's a weird feeling."

Katz spent 16 minutes pouring every ounce of energy into keeping him alive before the paramedics showed up. When they loaded her husband into the ambulance, she started walking the blocks down to the hospital. "I was so zoned," she remembers. Katz gave the staff her husband's details, his medical history and a summary of the situation before he even arrived in the ambulance. "I just went into auto-pilot," she explains. "They were prepared for him when he came in."

"When you're in a non-healthcare setting as a nurse, just in your normal life, it's totally different. You don't expect things like this to happen. You'll be in shock," she warns. Doctors treating her husband were amazed at Katz's response decisions. "In the end, I'd done exactly the right things," Katz says. "Some of them without knowing why I did them. It was just instinct."

Flying on an airplane

Nicole Lerouge, nurse at King's County Hospital in New York City, was on a flight when she heard a loudspeaker call for nurses. Her daughter turned to her saying, "Mom, they're calling you."

When Lerouge made her way to the scene, she saw a woman lying in the cramped floor space with flight attendants trying to keep other passengers in their seats. Lerouge and another nurse teamed up. "She was so pale and clammy," Lerouge recalls. "No movement, unresponsive and she wasn't breathing."

Lerouge asked the attendants for oxygen. "I don't know if you've ever seen the oxygen they have on a plane, but they are like toys compared to what we use," she says, adding that she asked for several other emergency items, even jelly (suspecting hypoglycemia), but the crew did not have it.

"You're not in a hospital and you don't have what you know you need," she explains. "You're wedged into this tiny space trying to work." The attendants had a doctor on the phone who advised the nurses to administer fluid. But the patient's jaw was clenched shut, making this a difficult task.

Improvising in what she now suspected was a seizure, Lerouge asked for sugar packets and orange juice, mixing them together and coating it around the patient's gums. After a second administration of the sugary paste, the woman's jaw loosened.

"We made sure she could swallow. Then I tried giving her fluid, a little at a time, with oxygen in between." At this point, the patient was still disoriented and in danger when the pilot asked Lerouge to make a judgment call.

"He asked me if we should make an emergency landing," Lerouge says. "I could hardly think I was so focused on the lady." When Lerouge learned that the regular landing wasn't very far off, she said she thought the woman might be stabilizing.

After more care, the woman opened her eyes and thanked Lerouge. "You have no idea how relieved I was to hear her talk," she says. After the event, she received a letter from the airline, thanking her for her help and offering her gift miles. "I really don't want to take the credit," she says. "The crew and the other nurse were on point. It takes a team to save someone's life."

Sitting down for dinner

Kayc Campbell was in nursing school and working as an EMT when she was sitting down for dinner on a seemingly normal night. Then she remembered she'd left her bag outside. "I stepped out the front door, looked down the street and saw a pizza driver flying down the road, running into what I thought must be a garbage can," she remembers.

Campbell watched the driver get out, look under his car, then back up over whatever he had hit. The horrified looks on the face of the witnesses told her she needed to go help, so she ran to the car. "I took a deep breath and rounded the car to see a small child wearing red pants with an open compound fracture of his left leg."

"The child's face was bleeding from the pavement. I snapped into EMT mode and told everyone to get back," she says. "I came up behind his head and slipped my hands gently around his neck." Campbell immediately knew there was brain trauma, but she felt breath and a pulse.

"I looked him over and saw that he had lost a shoe. A shoe like one I had bought two days ago for my son for his first day of school," she recalls. "My blood ran cold."

Campbell froze in shock, realizing the boy was her own 5-year-old son. But a moment later, she snapped back. "I told myself ... don't be his mom; he needs you to be his EMT. You can't lose it, he needs you!" When the ambulance arrived, Campbell started with her credentials first, before telling the EMTs she was his mother. "I wanted them to talk to me like an EMT and not as the mom."

From the hospital they had to call a helicopter to transfer her son, a life flight only licensed personnel could take. "But I was licensed, and I was going," Campbell insisted. She assisted the EMTs with the defibrillator on the ride. "He flat lined for what felt like an eternity, but he began to stabilize." Their arrival at the new facility was the beginning of a long rehabilitation process.

"The nurses became my family," Campbell says. "They carried me through what was the most horrific thing a parent/nurse could see." Campbell quit nursing school for a few years to work with specialists for her son adjusting to a new life with brain damage. But as soon as she could, she went back and became an RN. "I had several overly-emotional job interviews at the question 'why nursing?'" she explains.

Now, Campbell works as a pediatric RN at Rady's Children's Hospital in San Diego. "My motivation is to pay forward the care that we received. To someday be the nurse that slips into the room of that mom who has just seen her life pass before her and say, 'when I see your heartbreak, know that I feel it too.'"

To the heroes among us...

Nurses are hardwired to help people. During every shift - and every moment in between. Their wisdom and training has equipped them to shift into nursing mode no matter what the situation, making them an asset to all those around them.

Do you have a story of your own to add to this impressive list? Have you also jumped into action outside of your scrubs? Have you seen nurses come through for a stranger in a crisis? Share in the comments below!

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Great article. I am in awe of these nurses and hope if something happens like this around me, I will be able to react like these nurses did.