I have spent most of my adult life working in the healthcare field, caring for patients and their families in times of great stress and in emergency situations. My job title has changed a few times over the years, but I am currently working a Licensed Practical Nurse while I am pursing my Bachelor of Nursing degree in the hopes of one day soon becoming a Registered Nurse. For the last four years of my career, I have worked in women’s health caring for women and new babies, where I have had to provide basic life support on more than one occasion. Naturally, as a healthcare worker, I have taken countless CPR, first aid, Neonatal Resuscitation, and BLS courses which have given me the background knowledge and skill set to provide emergency medical care. Additionally, I have participated in many drills, simulation lab days, and workshops put on by my Clinical Nurse Educators to prepare myself to provide basic life support in my capacity as an LPN. And, of course, I keep myself well rested, well hydrated, and properly equipped – my unit checks that the resuscitation room is fully stocked on every shift! All of these measures have served me so well in the past to make sure that when I needed to give emergency medical care at work, that I would be mentally and physically prepared to do so, however, I had not previously considered if these measures would adequately prepare myself if the unthinkable were to happen at home where it was MY family member that was experiencing a medical emergency.
It was an ordinary day; I was home from work on maternity leave with my fourth child, a daughter, named Athena. Athena had recently learned how to crawl and was thrilled to be able to mobilize and explore her environment! As a cautious mother who has seen many choking incidences both at work and out in the community, I was pretty cautious about locking up any toys with small pieces and ensuring my older children kept all the legos and Barbie shoes far from Athena’s reach. We had installed baby locks and gates, the whole nine yards. And so I never in a million years would have imagined that Athena would need emergency medical care due to choking – until that day, when it happened. Athena began to cough and so I went to see what the matter was. Before I knew it, the coughing stopped and Athena could no longer make any sounds whatsoever. As I began chest compressions and back blows, my years of training, simulations, and drills kicked in and I began intervening without even thinking; it was just like muscle memory. I yelled to my husband to call 911 and proceeded to continue chest compressions and back blows as I watched my daughter, unable to breathe. Thankfully, before she lost consciousness, I managed to dislodge the small plastic object that she had choked on. I had never felt more relieved in my life! Thankfully Athena made a full recovery and is now a happy and healthy toddler.
On the day that Athena choked, I learned some things that I have since carried with me into my practice as a nurse. Firstly, that no matter how much training a person does and how many times they have given BLS, it can still be absolutely terrifying and devastating to experience a medical emergency. No matter how experienced and prepared you think you are, it can still be difficult to process these events mentally and therefore seeking support after the event is so important to our mental health. Taking care of ourselves allows us to continue to take care of our patients, our families, and our coworkers. Secondly, that medical emergencies can be incredibly traumatic and frightening to the patient experiencing them, and also to their families who witness these events. This is one area that I believe my previous BLS training and nursing education did not adequately touch on. It’s not really something that I had thought much about as a nurse, but after experiencing a medical emergency from the perspective of being the patient’s family member, I have given great thought to this area. Giving good emotional support, debriefing, coping resources, and referrals to appropriate mental health professionals is so very important in the aftermath of a medical emergency. Research has shown that there is a correlation between the amount of emotional support one is given directly after a traumatic event and the development of PTSD, however, I believe this is something that was not talked about enough in all of my years of training and nursing. Since Athena’s choking accident, this is an area that I’ve worked to improve my skills and knowledge in so that I can be more mentally prepared to support my patients and their loved ones after a medical emergency.
And so, I will continue to prepare myself by taking my annual BLS and NRP. I will continue to participate in drills and workshops, and to think critically after each emergency at work to analyze things we could have done better. And I will continue to physically care for myself by sleeping enough, eating well, and keeping physically fit. But now, I also am educating myself about the importance of debriefing, about PTSD, and about resources in the aftermath of traumatic events. And lastly, I have been spreading the word in my community about Athena’s story and encouraging everyone (not just healthcare workers) to take a CPR class and to practice those skills, because medical emergencies can happen anywhere, at anytime.