June 27, 2018

New Nurse Saves Woman's Life On A Plane

New Nurse Saves Woman's Life On A Plane

By Brittany Hamstra, RN

The following is a true story that happened within my first 6 months of becoming an RN. I wrote about this experience to remind myself why I do what I do…

Today was a special day. Sometimes people are put into our lives for only a brief moment and make an impact that lasts a lifetime. My flight to Chicago should have been like every other flight I've taken: drive to the airport after a night shift, sleep through the flight, wake up and disembark. Today I was especially excited to settle into my seat in row 16 because that's my lucky number and I pay attention to silly things like that. 

Now, what are the chances of a registered nurse who works on an epilepsy unit sitting adjacent to a woman who would go on to have two seizure episodes during a flight with no other medical personnel on board? I've worked out the odds to be about zero. 

Springing Into Action

As she went into her first episode and became hypertonic and unresponsive, everything became blurry in the midst of the commotion. People began panicking on board, those around her jumped out of their seats, and all I remember was lunging towards her. The rest is a bit hazy as I went through the motions as if on autopilot.

Airway, breathing, perfusion, pulses, color, cap refill, pupillary reflex, sternal rub…

The woman was traveling alone. As I continued to assess and monitor through her seizure, I gave the responsibility of looking through her purse for medical information, medicine, and contact info to a nearby crew member.

To another, I asked for an oxygen tank and mask. After the episode was over, she was disoriented and post ictal for about 30 minutes. I asked another crew member to page overhead for a glucometer and blood pressure cuff. Luckily, both were available and very helpful in determining it was likely a hypoglycemic seizure. Once she was able to swallow, I gave her a few ounces of orange juice and talked her through everything up until that point. 

This entire series of events happened again an hour later and the crew asked if I would be willing to start an IV while they figure out how to make an emergency landing should there be a third seizure. Luckily, she only had two seizures and remained stable through the rest of the flight. Upon landing, I was asked to escort her first off the plane with EMS.

An Epiphany

As I stood, the passengers and crew started clapping and thanking me for my help. I kept telling everyone, “It was no problem, this is my job.”

But then all at once it occurred to me, nursing is not just my job.

Being a nurse is a part of me that doesn’t clock out when I do from the hospital. I wasn’t even aware of my own growth and capabilities as a nurse until this moment in time. And when I did, it was a surreal moment.

Once this woman was oriented to her surroundings again, I prepared to part ways when she gave me the most heartfelt hug and genuine “thank you.” She said that although she had no idea what was going on, looking at my face next to her and feeling my hand on her hand made her feel safe. 

Sure, it could all be one big coincidence, but I prefer to think otherwise. As I ride on this train away from O’Hare airport, I feel such a sense of purpose and gratitude towards my profession. I love the skills I’ve learned through nursing, but most of all, I love that I’m inspired every day by others.

Next Up: Joe Biden Thanks Hospice Nurses Who Cared For His Family

Brittany has been a pediatric oncology nurse for 2 years at the Disney Hospital in Florida and recently started the adventure of travel nursing. When she’s not on shift, you can find her planning her next trip around the world, playing volleyball on the beach, or finding her zen at a bikram yoga class.

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