On a brisk but blissfully sunny Christmas Eve morning, en route to visit family with a car full of cookies and presents, I was not expecting to make this particular detour.
I was only a block away from my home when I came to a stop sign across from a local park. I witnessed a man lying supine on the pavement and receiving CPR. From a distance the scene looked so serene, I thought it wasnt real.
I pulled the car over and rushed to the mans side. My keys were still in the ignition and Im sure I was blocking traffic. Someone — I later learned he was an off-duty EMT — already was performing CPR. The unresponsive man was surrounded by nervous onlookers.
I immediately went over to the first responder and said, “Im a nurse; I know CPR. Can I help”? He quickly responded yes, and before I knew it I was doing chest compressions. From what I understood, the man may have been taking a leisurely stroll in the park on that beautiful morning and suddenly collapsed. Now his life was in the hands of two strangers.
After a round of compressions and breaths, I heard the sirens of an emergency vehicle approaching from a distance. Before I could learn the mans name, he was taken by ambulance to the nearest hospital.
As the clinical nurse specialist for a rapid response team in an inpatient setting, I spend my days working with the RRT and helping patients with emergency situations and end-of-life issues. On any given day, I might respond to two or three rapid response calls or cardiac arrests. I am a basic life support instructor, and often provide classes to residents and nurses on resuscitation skills and CPR. I coordinate mock codes and am an active member of the hospitals code committee. I approach my job with the utmost confidence on a daily basis, but often wondered how I would respond in an emergency away from the staff support and equipment we have in the hospital setting.
On this occasion I found out what most nurses and healthcare professionals probably already know — that this particular day was no different than any other day. Well, maybe there were some differences. Instead of mannequins, automated external defibrillators, ECG monitors or SBAR reports, there were birds chirping and children playing on swings in the distant background. Instead of a hospital bed, there was cold, hard concrete. Instead of qualified staff, there were frantic onlookers.
Still, I quickly realized the setting did not matter. Knowledge and confidence seem to transfer from the workplace and classroom to everyday life. Its amazing how your clinical skills and critical thinking just kick in, and you go into a mode where you know exactly what to do and how to remain calm. I was proud to realize I acted in the same manner I teach to my staff every day. Moments like these help solidify why I became a nurse.
I dont know what happened to the man after he was taken to the hospital. Id like to think I had a small part in saving his life, and that some day soon he can finish that beautiful walk in the park.
After the incident, I continued on my way to see my family. I arrived with the baked goods and presents in tote. My mother asked why I was late. I said, “I was just doing my job.” •
Jennifer Dorman, CCRN, MS, ACNS-BC, is a clinical nurse specialist for the rapid response team at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn.