Donna Dwyer, RN, CCRN, realizes how close she came to dying last year, and she has made it a point to make sure everyone at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia who was involved in saving her life receives the proper thank you.
There is only one problem.
Although she has tried again and again, there is nothing she can do to express how profoundly grateful she is toward those who brought her back from the brink of death after she suffered a ventricular fibrillation cardiac arrest.
Thats OK, say those who were there to rescusitate her. Just having Dee around again is all they need.
Thursday, Oct. 16, 2008, was a typical day for Dwyer at Temple, where she works as a critical care pool nurse in the GI department. She was feeling fine when she went to the break room for lunch about 1:45 p.m. and was sitting alone until GI tech Carolyn Humphries joined her.
I had consumed a huge lunch, which is normal for me, Dwyer says. I had a salad, I had three cups of fruit, I had a big sandwich on an Amoroso roll and soda, and [Humprhies] said I then took out a little bag of Swedish Fish. She said I opened up the bag and put one in my mouth and I went, Uhh. She looked, and I slumped over, and that was it. The next thing I remember is waking up the next day in the ICU on a ventilator. Humphries says she asked Dwyer if her tooth hurt after she bit into the candy, and that Dwyers last word was no before she slowly leaned against the wall.
Humphries, thinking Dwyer was choking, started to perform the Heimlich maneuver but quickly realized Dwyers problem was much more severe.
I just laid her on the table and ran out and got help, and thats when everyone else came, Humphries says. I had just broken my foot. I had just come back to work a couple of days before that, and I had this big boot thing on my foot, and I was running with this boot through the hallway.
Help arrived almost immediately, and among the first were RNs Mickey Jones and Martha Harrison.
Jones says Dwyer had no pulse or respiration as he and others, surrounded by about 50 onlookers, worked on Dwyer in a hallway outside the break room. We must have shocked her 20, 30 times, recalls Jones, who performed CPR and gave medications in 45 minutes of resuscitation efforts. We werent giving up.
Dwyer, who was 49 when she had the cardiac arrest, has no memory from the time she took her last bite of lunch and when she awoke the next day to see almost the whole GI department lined up across my room.
And maybe thats a good thing.
I said the other day to some of the nurses, I dont think Ill ever know the whole story, Dwyer says. And they just looked at me, and I said, Do I really want to know the whole story? And they just shook their heads, no.
But Dwyer has learned some of the details, such as that a cardiac catheterization was performed on her by Nelson Wolf, MD, a cardiologist who had been following Dwyer because of a history of PVCs believed to be unrelated to her cardiac arrest. She learned Richard M. Greenberg, MD, her new cardiologist, showed up during her code and shocked me with skin patches six or seven times, she says. Dwyer since has been implanted with a pacemaker and defribillator but says she has no lingering effects from the episode.
Thank you, thank you
Several of those who helped Dwyer say they feel closer to her since the event. Ive done it to many strangers, but its not often you get to do it for a friend, Jones says.
In the past year, Dwyer has brought many tokens of appreciation for the staff at Temple, but her efforts always seem to fall short of showing her true level of appreciation.
Whether you placed a line in me, aided in my resuscitation or my recovery or offered that essential word of support to myself or my family, I will be forever grateful, she says.
Dwyer knows she probably never will be able to thank the numerous people who helped save her, but she does her best to express her gratitude to her co-workers at Temple. Two weeks after the incident, my husband and I got a huge cake, and I had on it Thanks to all my lifesavers, she says. Another time I went back and I took up a huge box of fruit.
Every time I see them, Im thanking them, and theyre telling me I dont need to do that. But how do you thank people enough for saving your life?
Tom Clegg is a member of the editorial team at Nursing Spectrum.