Jerry Lucas: A male ER nurse story regarding 9/11

Nurses Men


day in the life

this article appeared in the may 2002 issue of nursing times and is reprinted here with the permission of [color=#9933cc]nursing times.


jerry at ground zero 9/12/01

jerry lucas is a nurse in the emergency room at floyd county trauma centre, new albany, indiana, usa. on september 11 last year he drove for 12 hours across several state lines because he felt compelled to lend a helping hand at ground zero in new york.

i work the night shift from 7pm to 7am. in the usa this is when most of the 'wild life' comes out. i try to get in about 30 minutes early. at work i cover five emergency rooms: one for orthopaedics, an eye room and three trauma rooms. ambulances arrive in a seemingly never-ending stream.

in the orthopaedic room there are two people who have been involved in car accidents. both complain of pain throughout their bodies.

after an assessment, which reveals no obvious fractures, i insert large-bore intravenous lines to maintain fluid balance and provide pain relief.

the man has intense pain in his left shoulder, which is beginning to redden, and the woman reports severe neck pain. both are waiting for x-rays to be taken.

in room three there is a young child who has had a seizure. i assess the child, insert an intravenous line and ask the technician to connect a heart monitor to her. her heart rate turns out to be normal, but her rectal temperature is 40°c. i call the duty physician, who orders medicine and a fluid bolus. the child is also sent for a computerised axial tomography scan.

this is a fairly normal night for me. the emergency room is not a place for slow people - we see up to 120 patients a night. not all of them are real emergencies - there are a lot of what we call 'cough/cold' clients. we also get people who just want someone to talk to.

a man with an eye injury is in room five. i make an assessment before passing him to the appropriate physician. at each step i work closely with the other nurses and technicians - we take pride in being a team.

we are then told that the emergency medical services are en route with a patient who they suspect has had a heart attack. i know he will be directed into room four because the other rooms are full. the ambulance arrives and the man, who is awake and alert, complains ofsubsternal chest pain. his pain was acute at onset and he rates it as 10 on a scale of 1-10.

we administer oxygen and give him morphine using the intravenous line that has already been placed by the emergency medical services. an x-ray is taken using a portable machine.

many of my colleagues want to know about september 12 last year. that was the day i spent at ground zero in manhattan. like many other people, after the first plane hit the world trade center i watched the television in horror as events unfolded. then i called my boss and told her that i was going to new york to help out.

i left home, drove for 12 hours and arrived at 2am. i could see a bright glow over the city. you could see smoke but all i can remember is the glow of fire. when i got to ground zero it was like something out of a war movie. i worked side by side with the real heroes of the day, the police, firefighters and the emergency medical services.

the feeling of loss was indescribable. i worked throughout the night and all the following day. words cannot describe what the situation was like.

once, when i walked out of ground zero, i met people wandering around with pictures of missing loved ones. i was asked if i could tell them anything. that is when i wept - how do you tell people about hell on earth?

i felt bad because i knew i was going to have to go home later that day. i had given all the time i could and have a family of my own. at 7p i drove out of new york and spent another 12 hours on the road. the trip home felt like one of the longest i had ever made.

when i got home i felt ashamed that i had not stayed longer and giving more of my skills and time to help the rescue effort. i felt that, as a nurse, i should have given more to my country during a time of need.

time has passed and the images of what i saw that day have faded. the are never quite gone though, they are just waiting to resurface whenever i see or hear about ground zero. w

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