Outside the Doors: Responding to Medical Emergencies in our Community

Outside the Doors: Responding to Medical Emergencies in our Community

I was driving home on Route 50, on the last leg of a three hour car ride. My little boy and I were singing “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt” at the top of our lungs and I was thinking I could really use a coffee, when the cars in front of me began slamming on their brakes. Probably to stare at some car pulled over by the police, I thought, irritably. It’s taking forever to get home.

But it wasn’t a police car or a stalled out vehicle. It was an accident that must have happened just moments before–I didn’t see flashing police lights or hear sirens. As we drove closer, my heart started to pound. There was a vehicle overturned in the median. All my senses went into overdrive as we crept by: broken glass, a hissing radiator, the smell of exhaust and tire smoke, a woman covered with blood.

Photo by Paul W. Gillespie-The Capital (Aug. 22, 2010)

A few passers-by had jumped out of their cars and were doing their best to help at the scene. “Do you need a nurse?” I yelled out the window. Seems like the answer should have been obvious, in retrospect. Maybe I was hoping they would say, “No, go on, we’ve got it under control here.” But they didn’t. And so I parked my car on the shoulder, told my son to start praying for the people who were hurt. That I was going to lock him in the car and not to get out for any reason.  

As I approached the vehicle, my BLS training came back to me—I assessed the scene. A couple 20-something guys were holding two small children who had either been thrown or rescued from the overturned car. They had some minor injuries and were clearly in shock, but otherwise seemed stable. A woman, hyperventilating and covered with blood, was being cared for by a person who identified herself as a nurse—I wonder if she is one of ours? Another helper lay on the ground, reaching through the car’s shattered window, to gently hold the shoulder of the trapped, unconscious driver.  

I was an ER nurse for many years and when trauma patients rolled in, I felt in control, prepared with my emergency drugs, my gloves and IV supplies, my team. Here, there was a man offering me a roll of paper towels to staunch the blood of the victims. This was much different than anything I had ever experienced.

“Does anyone have a first aid kit?” Three appeared, I couldn’t tell you from where. I started barking orders: “You! See if there are gloves in the kit. You! Get the kids away from the vehicle. You! Put this cold pack on his head. Stabilize his neck like this.”

One pair of gloves were handed to me and I gave them to the nurse caring for the bleeding woman.

I smelled gasoline. Someone yelled, “This is gas leaking, people. Get away from the car.” For a moment, I let myself wonder what would happen if the car exploded. There were still two people trapped inside and about ten helpers surrounding the vehicle. No one budged. Not even the man lying on the ground, holding the shoulder of that trapped, unconscious driver. I was in awe of the bravery of these people.

It had probably only been about five minutes, but it seemed like much longer. I heard sirens in the distance and ran to move my car so the ambulance could pull in.

I found out later that seven people had been in the vehicle when it lost control. According to the news, they were all airlifted to a shock trauma center. The cause of the accident was not known.

This experience affected me profoundly. Among other things, it made me wonder how often this happens. As nurses, we don’t just offer care inside the walls of a hospital. What about you? Have you had to respond to an emergency situation? Did it change you? Has it affected your nursing practice? Tell us about it here.

-Monica Mewshaw, MSN, MPH, RN

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