Like the blink of an eye, it can happen in an instant. I woke up early on the morning of January 24, 2017 in my apartment in Westlake, Ohio as I was preparing to take a Neonatal Resuscitation class for the first time. I had left some documents I needed to bring to the class in my locker at work. I poured the hot coffee in my travel mug to wake me up and keep my hands warm. It was cold, but not cold enough for snow. If it were any colder, it would have been snowing, as it had rained all night. I drove into work, grabbed the documents I needed, spoke with some fellow nurses, and drove back to Westlake to begin my final review of the Neonatal Resuscitation content before I went to class. It was around 5:00 in the morning. The sun had not begun to rise, so it was easy to see the red and blue flashing lights ahead as I travelled along interstate 90 westbound. I noticed something strange happening as I slowly approached. A man was dragging another man, carrying him from between his two arms to the side of the road. Nobody else was there. I pulled my silver Ford Focus to the side of the road as close to the median as I could get, and not too far away from the two men. Before I put my car in park, I saw the one man start compressions on the other man. My heart started to pound. Like the blink of an eye, it can happen in an instant.
I hopped out of my car and ran up to the two men. From then on it was tunnel vision; I paid no attention to the cars flying past us as we tried resuscitating this man. I was attempting to manage his airway with a jaw thrust and breaths, and before I knew it we were through the first round and I swung around and began round two. I quickly noticed his gun slapping my forearm with every compression. I asked the other man what was going on. That was when I realized that these two men were both police officers for the City of Cleveland. The man we were trying to resuscitate was the other man’s partner, and he had been struck by a car at 70 mph while setting flares for the original car accident further up the road. Before I knew it, there were more police cars, more ambulances, and Metro Life Flight came floating down from the sky. There was a crowd of Cleveland’s finest around us, standing around us but keeping their distance. Their faces were perplexed with emotion as they watched the partner, myself, and a paramedic work through rounds and rounds of CPR until we put the Lucas device around the man and launched him with the life flight crew. The rain in the air stung as the helicopter lifted off of Interstate 90. I wore my Cleveland Clinic white scrubs that morning as I was heading into work to grab the documents I needed out of my locker. My scrubs weren’t white anymore. They were red, covered in dirt from the side of the road, and soaked. The rain on my face hid the tears that started coming as I watched the chopper fly away. I quickly went to my car and drove off, I didn’t want to talk to anyone, and I certainly didn’t want to be there anymore. Like the blink of an eye, it can happen in an instant.
As a cardiac critical care nurse, I go into work every single day knowing I may have to execute life-saving measures on somebody’s wife, mother, brother, or friend. It’s something we prepare for, both mentally and physically. The physical preparation starts early on and begins to come easy with experience. In nursing school I remember studying and thinking, “This is so cool. Someday I’ll get to save somebody’s life with the things I am learning today.” That thought has been proven true time and time again. After the first time I participated in a code blue in nursing school, I became extremely passionate about learning. It was the first time I had connected textbook knowledge with hands-on, life-saving work. Since then, I have been drawn to situations in which the skills and knowledge of ACLS are required. The adversity a team faces in these situations requires exemplary teamwork, communication, and calmness under pressure. The emotional preparation is more complicated, and it requires constant assessing, intervening on your mental health if necessary, and reassessing. One of the best pieces of advice I can give to someone who makes a career out of life-saving skills is to take care of yourself first. It has to be a priority. Moral distress and burnout are real, but can be avoided with intentional self-care. Run. Go fishing. Call a loved one. Do whatever helps you re-center yourself and seek perspective after difficult situations.
It doesn’t matter who you are. You never know when life-saving skills are going to be required of you to save a stranger, family member, or friend. Basic life support is something every single human on the planet should know how to initiate. To all the new learning health care providers: Remember, the content you are learning now may someday be the difference in another human’s life. It could be in an ICU bed, the dentist’s chair, or the side of the road. You will be learning the rest of your life, and you are only going to get more excited about that as you realize the impact you can have on peoples’ lives as you grow and develop as a health care provider. Study hard, seek experiences, and always be ready. Indeed, it can happen in an instant.