Monday, March 10, 2008


I truly believe that people come in and out of our lives for a specific reason. The reason might influence your life specifically or it might be that you impact their life. Sometimes you might not realize the impact that person makes until many years later. This happened to me.

It was 4 years ago. I was the charge nurse in the ED (Emergency Department) that I worked at. It was a busy afternoon, but nothing out of the ordinary. Now this was an inner city, Level I trauma center that has a very active residency program. So we did a lot of teaching.

A call came in stating an Ambulance was on the way in with a Car vs. Motorcycle accident. Again, this was nothing out of the ordinary. It is not unusual to see 1 or more trauma cases during a shift.

The patient came into the trauma room. As the charge nurse I look through anything that comes in with the patient to help identify the patient and locate family. It was a young male and after looking through his wallet he was 21. He was driving the motorcycle. The initial assessment was not good. He was not responding to staff and the ambulance crew had already placed a breathing tube.

As I looked through his contact list on his cell phone it was refreshing to see that he followed the recommendations to have either "911, mom, dad, etc" listed in their contact list so in case of an emergency, we would know who to contact. The contact listing was for "mom".

Now I have made this call a hundred times. Not always to a mom but to other family members. Tonight, though, I had a knot in my stomach. I was going to be the voice on the end of the phone that changes this families' life. I was going to make that call that any mom prays they never receive.

The conversation went as follows:

Mom, "hello"
Me, "Hi, my name is Lori, are you Joe's (we'll call him Joe)mom?"
Mom, hesitantly, "yes".
Me, "I am the charge nurse in the Emergency Department, your son, Joe, was brought in. He has been in an accident.

Loooonnnng Pause.......(you could feel the dread and despair)

Mom, "Is he alright?"
Me, "He is in critical condition, you need to come to the ED as soon as possible. Is there someone that I can call for you to bring you here?"
Mom, "I will call them".
Me, "Is there anyone else I can contact?"
Mom, "No, I will call them all and be there soon...thank you".

We hang up.

As I turn around I notice that they had started CPR on him. After another 5 minutes, they had exhausted all their options and he was pronounced dead.

My fear had now turned to dread. Although, it is never fun to tell family that their loved one is critically injured it is a million times worse to tell them that we could not save them.

I went about and tried to get other parts of my duties completed when I heard the overhead page for me to come to triage. I knew the family had arrived.

I went out to triage and the mother, father, and about 6 other family members were anxiously waiting for me. I escorted them down to the family room and told them that I was going to get the physician and I would be right back.

I went and retrieved the physician and we made the long walk back to the family room. The physician explained that despite all efforts and medical treatments we could not save their son.

The grief was so overwhelming that the mother actually started to vomit. I have learned that people handle grief in very different ways. After she regained some of her strength she looked directly at me and asked:

Mom, "Are you the one I spoke to on the phone?"
Me, "I slowly answered...yes"

She started to cry uncontrollably and between the sobs she said, "Was he still alive when you called me?"

Again, I slowly answered..."yes".

I can usually keep my composure, I have learned through the years how to separate my feelings from work. I had to learn this in order to do my job, and do it well. I could not let my feelings get in the way of taking care of patients. This time however, I could not stop the tears. They rolled down my cheeks as I watched another mothers' heart break. Nothing could prepare me for what she said next...

Mom, "Oh my God, I wasn't there for my son when he needed me the most. That's what moms are supposed to do."

I got down on the floor (as that is where she had fallen to) and tried to explain he would not have known. That in an instant he was gone. That he did not suffer. My heart was breaking. I wanted to do anything to easy the guilty that she was feeling.

I sat there as she had curled into a ball, holding her, for some time. The chaplain came in and took my place so that I could see if her son was ready for viewing. I walked back to the ED trying to get myself under control. Wiping my tears I made sure the patient had been cleaned up, ready, and moved into the viewing room.

I walked back. I explained to the family what they were going to see. I explained that there was a tube in his mouth because we were breathing for him and the IV and tubes so that we could give him fluids and medications. I then took them to the viewing room. As I opened the door, Mom collapsed in the doorway upon first glimpse of her son. We talked for some time and she finally made it to see him. She told me that he was not here but in heaven.

The rest of my shift was a blur. I went home that night feeling exhausted and overwhelmed.

It has taken a long time to be able to tell this story without fully crying. I still get teared up but am able to control myself. I can count on 1 hand that patients who have affected me in this way.

I know I affected her life and she will forever replay the phone call that I made again and again in her head. As a mother I feel terrible at another person loosing their son, but she had also touched my life in a way that I did not realize immediately.

She showed me the unconditional love and compassion of a mother. She showed me her faith in God and her son's faith, in that he was not here suffering, but will now be watching over her.

In the end she taught me to cherish every second, love like there is no tomarrow, never go in anger, kiss my kids every chance I get, and have faith.

She will have forever touched my life.


simplicity said...

What a neat story of how you were affected and probably majorly affected someone else. It is very sad but very touching!

itsalovething said...

That is a very heart wrenching story. I'm crying as I type. You definitely learned a very valuable lesson. Thanks for sharing.


linda said...

Hi, my name is Linda, I found your blog through Samara, and I never could do your job. I was bawling just reading the story. Mad props to you!