Inspired – An epiphany from the other side of the bed
Heather Williams RN shares the epiphany she had that inspired change in her nursing.
The moment that made me a better nurse & the nurse who inspired me. Click To Tweet
I’ve been a nurse for 21 years – half my life – but what we do on a daily basis still amazes me.
Just recently, in a four-hour period in our emergency department at Tucson Medical Center, we had to stabilize and protect a geriatric patient with severe mental health issues, we delivered an infant and we said goodbye to a 42-year-old woman who didn’t make it. All those snapshots of the human experience in that compressed space – and we still had to finish our job for the rest of the day.
We cope and compartmentalize. And unfortunately, we also may get to a point where we’re shutting it out too much.
This is a story about the moment that made me a better nurse and the nurse who inspired me.
It was 2008. I had a phone call that my husband, Darren, was in the trauma unit at another hospital following a car crash, and that he had a broken arm and a broken leg. At that moment, I stopped being a nurse and I just became a wife who was worried about her husband.
As a former trauma nurse, when I walked in, I expected a broken ankle and a broken wrist. Instead, I found he had been unconscious in the vehicle for 15 minutes and had to be extricated from the car. He had a broken tib/fib. His femur was broken, as was his humerus. He was a full-on trauma patient.
I didn’t tell anyone I was a nurse. It wasn’t an intentional experiment – to see how families and patients are treated by health care workers – but it was eye-opening nevertheless. Health professionals at all levels didn’t stop to introduce themselves or explain things. They didn’t look me in the eye.
For someone who does not have the experience or knowledge that I do, I can only imagine how frightening it would be to navigate through this system.
And I’m pretty sure up until that point I did the same thing. As a nurse, you get busy and overwhelmed and frustrated on a daily basis. You forget sometimes to think about how you are perceived by the patient and family.
Up until that point, I had never been a patient. I had never had a family member as a patient. Now I was on the other side of the bed for the first time in my career and things were about to get worse. Four days later, Darren was in severe respiratory distress and spent a week in the intensive care unit, intubated and on a ventilator.
As I waited in the hallway to hear how the intubation went, a resident came out of a room on a cell phone. She didn’t know I was Darren’s wife. Using medical terminology, she mentioned as she passed that the patient was about ready to code. Now I was really worried, picturing chest compressions. Thirty minutes passed with no word.
And then came the experience that made me see the kind of nurse I wanted to be.
Buck wasn’t even my husband’s nurse. But he came out to tell me how my husband was. He told me that they were having a hard time keeping his oxygen levels up. The level was at 17 percent. It should have been 99-100 percent. But he reassured me that they were working to stabilize him.
That moment, when he came out just to make that connection with me, changed a lot of things in my own practice and how I deal with families.
It’s not comfortable to talk to someone whose loved one has coded or passed away or won’t be the same again. But even if I don’t want to do it, it’s an important conversation anyway. It’s important to tell someone you’re sorry for their loss, or to let them know you’re sorry for the wait, or to share with them what’s happening.
I’m fortunate. My husband made a full recovery. And I still come to work every day absolutely in love with my job and in love with the patients and in love with the work. In fact, I have never had a day go by where there was any question that this is what I was meant to do.
As for patients, I hope that just being there for them makes it just a little bit better. Buck, thank you for that day and for all the days since that have helped me be better at what I do.
– Heather Williams RN