Emotional trauma…

Sometimes we experience people in our care that have a similar story, yet their path continues in very different directions…

When I trained as a nurse, we were taught to leave our judgements, emotions, and personal issues at the door when we enter our workplace. We were only permitted to bring our caring and empathetic parts of our self. We were warned about sharing too much of ourselves as that impeded the nurse patient relationship and potentially crossed boundaries of respect and confidentiality. We are now teaching and learning that this doesn’t have to be and that we are able to bring a personable side of ourselves to share experiences with our patients in a bonding and respectful manner. We are only human ya know!


At times we encounter people who are/or experience(ing) similar situations as us, and the ability to cope with patients who don’t know your story is truly a skill that is unique to nursing. There are all kinds of situations that nurses find themselves in that mimics their own personal lives, and a question I often get from nursing students, is how to navigate these kinds of situations.


Many years ago, I was caring for a patient who presented to the ED with seizures. They had fallen and hit their head during one of these episodes and their partner was becoming increasingly concerned about the frequency of the episodes.

During the check in process, the partner made it clear that the patient required a female nurse and potentially a female doctor. Of course, we would attempt to accommodate patients the best we can; however, many hospitals I have worked at only have 1 doctor on staff at a time, and this request is impossible, not because we won’t but because we can’t. In this situation, we were able to ensure a female nurse but not doctor. The reason for the request was related to childhood trauma, which we would soon learn is the “cause” for the seizures.

Hearing this person’s story and the details of the quality of life they were experiencing based on the history of trauma, was emotionally provoking. It really became evident that although their story was not unique in the type or duration of trauma, but the impact on the ability to cope was truly unique. Taking care of this person, brought back for me memories of trauma but what was more impactful was the fact that although the patient and I had similarities in our history, our outcomes in life were incredibly different. I did cry after caring for this person, the tears were not for myself because I have grown, learned, and moved past my issues, the tears were for the patient, as their life somehow did not allow them to have the same healing that I did.

So when nurses are faced to care for people who’s situations mimic things in their own lives, we have a choice, we can either find deep empathy and truly care for the patient or withdrawal into ourselves in an effort to find our own coping.

To answer the question, how we navigate these situations is difficult to answer; however, as nurses we must care for ourselves before we can care for others. Additionally, recognizing what triggers us is important so we can remove ourselves from situations that will cause us emotional harm. I did not run from the above situation because I felt a connection to the patient that can’t be described and caring for them was certainly emotionally draining but I hope what I did that day made a positive impact on the patient.

How do you cope when your patient is going through something that hits home for you? I would love to read your comments!

fullsizeoutput_1e3c Trudi

(person, place, time, and specific details have been removed to protect the patient’s identity, no HIPPA/FIPPA violation intended)


It’s all about teamwork…

The very essence of the ED is not knowing what will walk through the doors at any given time. We don’t know the background, the history, their story…

At times the unknowing is exhilarating, and other times it is anxiety provoking. Some nurses are always looking for the excitement of the ED and others will always feel the anxiety; I float between those emotions depending on many of life’s variables. Days at the end of a set, when you are tired and have already seen lots of action, are days I’m more anxious about the unknown. I supposed it’s because subconsciously I am aware of my mental fatigue and I worry that I won’t be at the top of my game.


(As always, I will not disclose person, place, or time to protect the identity of the patient.)

I don’t recall the emotion of the day prior to receiving the gunshot victim…

When you look up from your desk, to see a security guard pushing a young man in a wheelchair through the EMS bay doors, the first thought is…”that’s weird, why are they coming in that door?” And then your brain starts to process the blood pooling on the floor as the wheelchair is pushed into the nearby trauma bay. By now, your body is moving, and your brain is engaged, and your eyes are assessing…Airway-check, breathing-check, circulation-oh no!

Up to this point, I had managed to go all of my nursing career without taking care of a gun violence victim. I’ve always prided myself on being the “white cloud” of good luck. But in these moments, having not experienced something, leaves you feeling vulnerable in your knowledge. As an ER trained RN, we are provided with education that supports us in these moments, ABC’s. And often instinct is what gets you through the rest.

As our patient came through the bay doors, we made quick work of getting pressure applied to the open areas of the bleeding leg, we continued pressure, lifted the patient onto the stretcher and began cutting the clothes off. We noted 2 holes, just above the knee and were careful not to label those holes as entry or exit. The holes could have been from 1 bullet or 2.

Many things happen simultaneously in the ED, and I’m usually proud of the teamwork that happens in these situations. Blood was being delivered from the lab, a search for a proper tourniquet was in progress, IV access was happening, cardiac monitoring initiated, support personal were notified and helicopter was on-route.

Many healthcare providers in these types of situations, describe time differently. Some say time speeds up and others describe things in a slow motion, but it’s interesting in the in between moments of what you take note of and where your attention wanders. Once I was able to securely wrap the leg, I observed how much blood there truly was. It was pooled in the wheelchair seat, puddles marking the route from the door to the trauma bay, shoe prints and smearing from nurses slipping in the blood on the floor. I remember thinking, with all this blood, were we fast enough, did we do a good job, will the patient make it, will he keep his leg?

After some intense moments, leg wrapping, blood products, and of course patient centered care, after all he was awake and talking to us through this whole ordeal (thank goodness!), the critical transport team arrived, and we waved good-bye to yet another experience in the ED. Thankful that our patient was on-route to a facility that can care for the trauma and thankful for the team we had beside us that day. No matter where you go to work, as a travelling nurse, trust and teamwork should be the number 1 goal. Knowing that your co-workers are skilled and knowledgeable is a huge advantage to being successful as a travel nurse!

We later found out there was no artery involved and they saved the leg!! We also learned, that the tourniquets needed to be kept under lock n’ key, they had seemed to walk away when we needed them the most. And we learned, what an amazing team and group of individuals we were lucky to work with! Well done ED team, you all rock!


fullsizeoutput_1e3c Trudi

(person, place, time are removed from this story to protect the identity, no violation of FIPPA/HIPPA intended)