Three weeks after moving to New York City a few years ago and starting my first job as an oncology nurse at New York University Medical Center, I experienced my first true medical emergency. To my surprise, this crisis did not include a patients dislodged chest tube or sudden drop in oxygen saturation. In fact, it did not even occur during the familiar chatter of the nurses station, in the halls filled with eager medical residents, or steps away from the crash cart. It happened after a long week of work, after I stepped out of my scrubs, hung up my stethoscope, and transformed back into a 22-year-old young woman.
As I walked out of the hot and crowded subway near the Upper West Side, I tried to clear my mind of a variety of orientation lecture topics: medication incompatibilities, blood transfusion protocols, neutropenic precautions, etc. It was there, on the corner of 72nd Street and Columbus Circle, that I felt an unfamiliar panic and heard the words, Does anyone know CPR?
Does anyone know CPR? I think I know CPR. I had attended the Basic Life Support (BLS) class and practiced on the CPR dummies. I was awarded my certification card. My CPR instructors words were fresh in my mind. First, listen for breathing. Then, watch for chest expansion. Next, check for a pulse. Two breaths to every 15 compressions. No, wait, its two breaths to every 30 compressions. Thats it. I got it.
I know CPR. I am a nurse. The words came out without time for me to think. The crowd instantly parted as I began to assess the situation. As I focused, I saw an elderly man lying face down on the pavement, clearly unconscious, who had apparently fallen. His face was completely saturated with blood. My first thought was to put on a pair of gloves, get the crash cart, and call a code. Then I remembered where I was. A rush of fear came over me. There was no airway cart, no ambu bag, no senior nurses, no residents, and no other help in sight. I started from the beginning of what I had learned in BLS classes. First, assess the patient. Sir, sir, are you OK? Can you hear me? No response. I looked at his bloody face. He needed help and quick. I listened for breathing. Next, I took his pulse. He had a strong pulse. I heard a voice from the crowd of bystanders in the background assuring everyone, Its OK, she is a nurse.
Can you hear me, sir? I questioned as I knelt next to my patient who was still lying on the hot city pavement. His accessory muscles were hard at work. I alerted the crowd, He is breathing. He is breathing.
I stabilized his neck as I waited with him for an ambulance to arrive. I did not need to perform CPR, but I felt like I had used my nursing knowledge to do my job. I was proud.
Being a nurse has become more than a job, more than a paycheck, and much more than a mere three shifts a week. At the end of the day, after I step out of my scrubs and hang up my stethoscope, I no longer transform back into the same 22-year-old girl. In fact, I am finding it harder every day to differentiate between what I do and who I am the difference between my in-hospital responsibilities and my everyday choices. It was at that moment, on the corner of 72nd Street and Columbus Circle, blocks away from any hospital, that I became a nurse.