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Put your own mask on first

safety_oxygen_maskFor those of you who don’t know. I just got back from vacation. (Great BIG SIGH) My wife is what you would call a novice flyer, I myself have been riding in Airplanes since I was teenager. I never gave much thought to the pre-flight instructions until I became a nurse.

More specifically, I never thought much of those infamously boring and popularly ignored (yeah, you know you do) instructions until I graduated from Nursing School. In fact, the night of graduation to be exact.

You know what instructions I’m talking about (need you look at the above picture for a small reminder). The flight attendant ( You notice the word Stewardess was NOT used! ~ Ah-hem!

Hello! Male nurse here!) gives you the safety speech involving the layout of the plane, the exits, the emergency lights, whether or not you sitting by and exit door, etc. Then comes the part where the cabin pressure may change in the event of an emergency and oxygen mask may deploy from the overhead bulkhead (sorry, it’s the Military training in me).

This is where you are instructed to “Put your own mask on first, before helping others in need”. “This includes small children”

The night of my Nursing school graduation ceremonies, we had a local Physician as our guest speaker (I graduated from a diploma program. We students actually chose this physician from the hospital system where we did our clinicals – he was awesome)

He had a knack for the vernacular, as well as an amazing bedside manner. He was the nursing staff’s favorite, and we students were great fans as well. He was THAT physician you wanted to work with, be around, take orders from, and care for his patients. He was THE nurse’s physician. He treated you with respect, kindness, and valued your opinion, And above all he constantly recognized how difficult our job was. He never stopped thanking us when on the floor. (Sorry… I digress)

Back to graduation…

So for his guest speech his topic was Self-Preservation. He echoed his sentiments from the floor and conveyed how much he loved and appreciated all the nurses he’s ever met and worked with. Our tireless hours of work. The sacrifices we’ve made, the sacrifices we will make. His take home message was the self-less actions of nurses, and how we as a culture find everyway in the world to care for everyone. Everyone but ourselves. We always go to great lengths to give the very best care and strive to be the very best patient advocate, but somehow we neglect ourselves.

  • Physical exhaustion
  • Mental anguish
  • Emotional depletion

All of which we battle with an empty shell. How can we truly take care of others, if we haven’t taken care of ourselves?

Think of it this way.

In that Airplane emergency. The cabin pressure changes. No oxygen available…

The oxygen masks deploy and you have two choices. Put your mask on first, or help the person next to you put theirs on first without a mask.

Put your mask on first:

  • You panic
  • The person next to you panics. And panics more.
  • The person next to you is flailing like a fish out of water
  • You blindly find your oxygen mask
  • You can’t see much through the debris.
  • It’s a little difficult, but you get your mask on.. And now you’re breathing well.
  • You reach over and search for the other’s mask
  • They’re still panicking. I don’t think they can hold their breath much longer.
  • As you find the mask the dust starts to settle ever so slightly
  • You can see the silhouette of the person next to you.. And you see and feel the oxygen mask
  • You now can safely apply the oxygen mask to the person next to you.
  • You’re both breathing well.

You turn to see more need your help.

OR You help the person next to you first without a mask:

  • As you hold your breath from a lack of oxygen you stumble to affix the mask
  • The person next to you is panicking
  • You’re beginning to feel light headed
  • It’s that initial blow with a lot of debris
  • Through all the debris, you can’t see much.
  • Little time left, so you feel your way through the task
  • As you use up the last bit of oxygen reserve you have…
  • You get that mask secured
  • Then you pass out

What about the others?

Take care of yourselves and each other and put your own mask on first.

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Sean Dent

Sean Dent is a second-degree nurse who has worked in telemetry, orthopedics, surgical services, oncology and at times as a travel nurse. He is a CCRN certified critical care nurse where he's worked in cardiac, surgical as well as trauma intensive care nursing. After five years practicing as an RN, Sean pursued and attained his Masters of Science in Nursing. Sean currently practices as a Board Certified Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (ACNP-BC) in a Shock Trauma urban teaching hospital. He has been in healthcare for almost 20 years. He originally received a bachelor's degree in Exercise and Sport Science where he worked as a Certified Athletic Trainer (ATC).
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3 Responses to Put your own mask on first

  1. Great points..

  2. I totally agree! In “House of God”, an oldie but a goodie, one of the ten rules was to take your own pulse first in a code – if we’re not calm and collected, who will lead the team in time of disaster? Excellent post!

  3. Sean Dent Scrubs Blogger

    @ Dr. Keilin Thank you! And you hit the nail on the head! We in the critical care world always tell new nurses and new grads… check your own pulse first!
    Thanks for stopping by!!!