Sirens blared through the hospital’s speakers: “En-route cardiac arrest patient. ETA: two minutes.”
At that moment, I stopped everything. My tasks as a nurse’s assistant in the Emergency Room were no longer important: taking vitals of the patient next door, examining new patients with panicked families, and consoling a child while his mother lay in a trendelenburg position were no longer priorities. My focus shifted, and the controlled chaos initiated.
The paramedics rushed into the Emergency Room, giving deep, powerful chest compressions to an older male. I learned CPR and received my Basic Life Support Certification during my second year of high school, a program composed of demonstrative videos, interactive dummies, and shock-less defibrillators. As a result, I am trained to save lives; I know how many breaths to administer an adult rather than an infant, where to place pads on a patient to deliver a shock, and how to check responsiveness and improvise if I do not have the right materials on hand.
But no amount of training could prepare me to see a chest practically crack at the pressure of a nurse trying to save a man’s life.
You never know what you are going to see in the Emergency Room, especially when shadowing a nurse’s every move. Despite the panic, I absorbed what was happening around me: how the nurses stayed calm, how I have never seen the doctor in a patient room until now, how the paramedics who brought the man stayed to help. I watched the team of medical professionals work instinctively, desperately attempting to save a man who they knew nothing about. At that moment, becoming a nurse was the only profession I would consider.
The man was soiled, and he room was crowded with paramedics, doctors, respiratory teams, and nurses. His skin was waxy; his lips were grey. With every thirty compressions, nurses shot two pumps of air through his lungs. I watched like a bystander, absolutely powerless in a situation that was out of my control.
“Time of Death: 09:12.”
They could not save him. The room began to empty, and I stood in the back, letting all the medical professionals out. Their faces were disappointed and exhausted, but not shocked. This was a normal day in the Emergency Room.
I was expected to go on with my day and complete the tasks that were asked of me. While I saw many lives being saved that day, the one that was taken is burned into my mind. Although I did not know the patient’s name, background, or family, an experience like that made me more driven to save lives. Nurses are heroes; although they did not save this man, they taught me what doing everything you can to do so looks like.
At seventeen years old, I did not believe that death had a smell, that death was the sound of chaos followed by the extinction of sound. On my first day of clinicals, I witnessed the most horrific outcome a nurse could experience, and it made me realize that I am willing to uphold all the responsibilities associated with the job.
To me, becoming a nurse is not only about saving lives, because the reality is that you cannot save everyone. I want to be a nurse because I admire the fact that, even when surrounded by stressful and intense situations, nurses have to keep calm and remember the sole purpose of their job: to put their needs before patients’. Shadowing nurses taught me to not be afraid; what I do has to be done with confidence and with the understanding that I must do everything to help a patient.
With compassion and assertiveness, the nurses at Bethesda Hospital showed me how to no longer be just a bystander. I will take their strength with me everywhere I go.