Napa Valley, California, USA
It was my first night shift on the obstetrical
unit, my first hands-on experience outside of clinical labs. As
a nursing student I’d recently finished the OB/GYN course work,
which made me eligible to work as a nurse’s aide. Such a deal, and
I needed the money!
After receiving the shift-change report, the
Charge Nurse gave me my assignment. With flashlight, clipboard,
and mercury thermometers standing upright in a metal carrying tray,
I took TPR’s on all my patients and carefully recorded the results
on the worksheet’s midnight column. That task finished, I was to
answer call lights, assist the Charge Nurse as needed, physically
look in on each patient at least hourly, and take vital signs or
perform other patient-care procedures as ordered.
Before long two women arrived in differing stages
of labor and I helped with their admission process. One delivered
quite precipitously (it was her ninth child), and I watched the
Nursery RN take the little bundle down the hall to make it more
presentable. And then it was time for rounds again. Taking my trusty
flashlight and making as little noise as possible, I checked the
patient in the first room. She appeared to be sleeping. So did the
second and third patients, as well as the fourth, a post-partum
mother who had birthed twins the day before.
Out in the hall and ready to move on to the
next room, I became aware of a slight sense of dis-ease. I paused
but there was nothing to put my finger on. Everything had seemed
to be okay with that fourth patient. What
is this? I thought. Shall
I ignore it? Maybe I’m just tired. After a moment’s
deliberation I reentered the previous room.
The woman was lying motionless, eyes closed.
Her breathing sounded normal, but the sense of disquiet persisted.
Gently I touched her arm and spoke her name. No response. Hmmm.
I took her pulse. Thready. Her vital signs had been within normal
limits at my last check. Hmmm,
again. I placed my hand on her abdomen to feel for the fundus of
her uterus, hoping I’d recognize if it felt okay. It didn’t. The
word boggy came to mind. Now
Carefully lifting up the bedcovers, I peeked
beneath them and gasped. I don’t know what I had expected but it
wasn’t the bright-red blood that was seeping out from under her
gown. I went flying out the door to the nursing station and reported
the situation. The Charge Nurse listened to my brief recital and
immediately went into action. She grabbed the telephone hand-piece
with one hand, began dialing with the other, and ordered me back
to the patient’s room to start fundal massage.
The largely silent and semi-dark ward came alive
with lights, sounds, and movement. The House Supervisor arrived,
increased the flow rate on the first IV and started a second. An
Intern dashed into the room on the heels of the OB Resident, who
took over the fundal massage. A classic glass bottle showed up from
the Blood Bank and, after its contents were verified, was hooked
to the second IV. “Run it wide open,” the OB Resident barked, “and
find her husband.”
Within minutes a 6-foot hunk burst into the
room, hair disheveled, black stubble standing out against pale skin,
and sweats that only partially hid red-and-white stripped trunks.
The man’s fear was palpable as he sagged against the wall. The OB
Resident briefly explained what had happened and the measures that
were being taken. Watching with anxious eyes, the husband murmured
periodically, “How could I live without
My job was to track and report vital signs.
As blood and IV fluids flowed into her veins I pumped up the sphygmomanometer
again and again. What a relief to hear the blood pressure rise to
a safer range and to feel her pulse stabilize and strengthen. A
second unit of blood was started and the patient gradually began
to move restlessly. Before long she opened her eyes and was able
to answer questions coherently. “Good,” the Intern commented, “looks
like we were in time to avoid brain damage.”
When the OB Resident finally announced that
that she was out of danger, the room gradually emptied and I went
to the nursing station to catch up on charting. A few minutes later,
the patient’s husband stopped by to express his gratitude. The Charge
Nurse pointed in my direction and said, “This little student nurse
is the one who discovered your wife's hemorrhage.”
Taking my hand in both of his (mine completely
disappeared from view), and with tears trickling down his cheeks,
he said, “I will never be able to thank you enough.”
Startled and a bit flustered at being singled
out, I mumbled something about that
was the least I could do. Simultaneously I experienced a
new and rewarding sense of elation. I, a little student nurse, had
actually done something to make a positive difference in the life
of this family! I will always remember the gratitude that shone
from his eyes as he returned to his wife’s room.
Next morning I had no difficulty staying awake
in class. My mind kept wandering back to the events of the night
before. What if, I thought to myself,
I had fudged on my rounds? What if I had ignored my sense of unease
and failed to investigate further? Good grief, the patient might
now be dead, her husband a widower, and the twins motherless, to
say nothing of the grief among extended family and friends!
That experience changed my life. For one thing
it gave me a new perspective on my aunt, my mother’s older sister,
in whose nursing footsteps I had followed. She was the Charge Nurse
on duty that night, having agreed to work a double shift. The memory
of her grace and competence during the crisis, and the credit she
accorded me for my small part in the drama, have lingered over the
years, especially since that was the one and only time she and I
worked together in a hospital setting.
It also increased my interest in the human brain
and the way in which it functions. It triggered a commitment to
pay attention to my intuition, hitherto somewhat disregarded based
on rhetoric I’d heard growing up. And it created a conscious desire
on my part to craft a personal mission—to make a positive difference
in the lives of others, on purpose. Funny thing. In the search for
ways to fulfill that mission, the life I’ve probably impacted the
most has been my own.
© Arlene Taylor, 2005 -
Reprinted with permission
Arlene Taylor is founder a president of Realizations
Inc, a non-profit corporation pledged to promoting brain-function
research and to providing related educational resources. A recipient
of the American Medal of Honor for Brain-Function Education (American
Biographical Institute Inc, 2002), Taylor holds earned doctorates
in Health and Human Services with an emphasis on women's issues,
and in Clinical Pastoral Counseling with an emphasis on issues of
abuse, addiction, and recovery. A member of the National Speakers
Association, Taylor is listed with the Professional Speakers Bureau
International. Access her web site (www.arlenetaylor.org)
for additional information.