It was almost nine o’clock on Sunday morning and I was running late. Along with my daughters, Giovanna and Antoinette, and friend Andrea Skillman, I had just enjoyed a weekend of pampering and relaxation at the spa and was heading to the airport.
This was far from a typical day for me as a nurse. However, about two months earlier, I was surprised to find out that I had been picked as the winner of California Casualty’s Give a Nurse a Break Getaway. So, instead of my usual routine as a psychiatric nurse at Linden Oaks Hospital, I found myself on a two-day trip to the Hershey Hotel and Spa in Pennsylvania.
Caption: Joyce, with her coworkers, when she learned she was the winner of California Casualty’s Give a Nurse a Break Getaway
Caption: Joyce, her daughters Giovanna and Antoinette, and her friend Andrea at the Hershey Hotel and Spa
Caption: Joyce and Andrea (dressed as Florence Nightingale!) outside the Hershey Hotel and Spa. Image: Andrea Skillman
I was about to find out how unusual this day would become. The limo that had us en route to the airport suddenly slowed and swung out to the side, veering out of the way to drive around a car accident. Out the window, I saw two vehicles, one banged up and the other flipped over completely. I turned to Giovanna and asked if she’d seen an ambulance at the scene. As she responded that she had not, I immediately yelled, “Stop now!” to the limo driver, lunging toward the partition to get his attention.
There was no way that limo was going by that accident. Even if I had to go through that partition, we were stopping. There was no question.
First responders had yet to arrive at the scene when we pulled up to the accident. I ran to the scene, hollering out, “I’m a nurse and my friend is, too.” I could see there was a woman hanging upside down by her seatbelt. She was awake.
The driver, an elderly woman, told me she was having trouble breathing. The car was smashed in around her and glass littered the asphalt, while her seatbelt and coat were making it difficult to breathe. So I crawled in beside her.
I laid on the ground next to the car with my hand reaching to her. She had a big, heavy down pink coat, so I unzipped that and pulled her clothes away from her neck. I put my hand on her chest and lifted up so she could lift her chin and breathe. I held her like that and just talked to her, holding her hand.
As Giovanna called the victim’s niece, firemen arrived at the scene. Meanwhile, Andrea, who works as a nurse at the VA, explained what was unfolding around me. A firefighter took my place supporting the woman, and I slipped back out of the car. But I wasn’t leaving.
As firefighters used the “Jaws of Life” to cut away the passenger side of the car, a man in his 50s or 60s walked up to Andrea. The man was the driver’s son. At the time, no one realized he had actually been in the car—wearing a seatbelt—at the time of the accident. I told him that I was a nurse and wanted to check him. I did a head-to-toe and didn’t find anything tender, and everything seemed fine.
Firefighters put both occupants of the rolled car, the woman and her son, in C-collars on backboards and loaded them into the ambulance. But I still wanted to talk to the woman one last time—and finally seized my moment, captured in this picture.
Caption: The author with other emergency staff helping the victim at the scene of the accident.
I’m back at my normal routine in my hometown and the hospital where I work. But my mind is still back in Pennsylvania and the woman in the car accident. I was told that her name might be Jane, but that’s all the information I walked away with. So far, my research to follow up has turned up nothing. I hope my story will reach nurses in Pennsylvania who may remember Jane and may have information on her.
It’s hard not to wonder what becomes of your patients—even the ones who weren’t yours to begin with.
Joyce DeZutti has been a nurse for more than 30 years. She taught EMTs to put herself through school, and worked in a Trauma 1 Center and ICU.
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