Best-selling author James Patterson paid tribute to emergency nurses and provided a sneak peek of his upcoming book about the specialty in the closing session at Emergency Nursing 2021.
Patterson and co-author Matt Eversmann took turns reading poignant first-hand accounts from “E.R. Nurses: True Stories from America’s Greatest Unsung Heroes.” Members of the virtual EN21 Conference Education Committee shared personal commentary between the inspiring, and sometimes heartbreaking, vignettes.
In one passage from the book, 2020 ENA President Mike Hastings shared lessons he learned in the emergency department that nursing school doesn’t teach.
“I discovered quickly that I needed to develop what I call the bipolar approach to nursing,” Hastings explained in the excerpt, read by Patterson. “I have to be able to witness the death of one patient and then instantly flip an internal switch and focus on the next patient’s needs. It’s not easy.”
Still, Hastings said he thrives in the “organized chaos” of the ED and dealing with the unknown. And he’s not alone.
“Just when we think we’ve seen it all, there’s always a potential surprise waiting for us on our next shift,” said Emergency Nursing Conference Education Committee member Marie Yabut, responding to a story about a 16-year-old patient who made a surprising recovery just as his family was making peace with what they thought was his imminent death. “Ready or not, emergency nurses are there for whatever is on the other side of the door,” she added.
Far too often, life-and-death scenarios don’t end as positively.
“I found a way to place each death in a box and put it upon a shelf. I take the boxes down every once in a while, unpack them, look at them, and then I put them back,” Lori Palumbo explains in the book. “I’m able to compartmentalize that stuff.”
Her approach to facing overwhelming loss resonated with clinical educator and Florida ENA State Council President Penelope Blake.
“We all have one of those boxes; some are bigger than others, but all are full of part of our souls,” she wrote in the live chat during the session.
In another book passage, flight nurse Robert Laskey details his efforts to save a man injured while riding an ATV being towed.
Setting emotions aside, Laskey went to work determined to fix the mangled human in front of him because, “It’s my job to make sure the patient doesn’t die.”
It was an impossible task, however, as the patient died en route to the hospital.
“We see the worst of the worst at times, yet we arrive on every scene with the confidence that even with limited medical capabilities out in austere environments, we are a severely injured person’s best chance at survival,” said Bradley Rund, a member of the Conference Education Committee. “We must assess and act quickly. We must get them to the next level of care as quickly and as safely as possible. And then we have to be ready to do it all again when the next call comes in.”
ENA Director of Advanced Practice Meg Carman believes she was meant to help people.
Eversmann read her words: “Nursing is my calling. I don’t do a whole lot of good things. I don’t build houses for Habitat for Humanity. I don’t give hundreds of dollars to charity. But, by God, I’m there for people — usually at the end of their lives — when they need me.”
Patterson and Eversmann previously collaborated on “Walk in My Combat Boots: True Stories from America’s Bravest Warriors.”
“E.R. Nurses: True Stories from America’s Greatest Unsung Heroes” is scheduled for release on Oct. 11, just in time for Emergency Nurses Week, which runs Oct. 10-16.
On-demand EN21 content, including the closing session, is available through Jan. 31 on the virtual meeting platform.
Emergency Nursing 2022 is scheduled for Sept. 30-Oct. 3, 2022 in Denver.