With a sinking feeling in my stomach, I asked, “Where are you?”
In this first of a series of articles leading up to Sigma’s 2019 Creating Healthy Work Environments conference, the author recounts a time when teamwork made all the difference.
Teamwork—the combined power of several to achieve a goal.
Have you ever looked back at an unanticipated, life-threatening event and said to yourself, “I could never have done that alone”?
In July 2018, I was fast asleep enjoying my summer vacation away from the office when my cellphone rang at 5 a.m. After making my way to the charging station, I picked up the phone and heard my son Gary say with a shaky voice, “Mom, I can’t feel my legs. My body is going numb!”
With a sinking feeling in my stomach, I asked, “Where are you?” and felt panic when he replied, “I don’t know.”
Gary is a truck driver, and I knew he was about two hours into his route. Because I was unsure of the direction he was traveling, I asked if he was driving the Wichita [Kansas, USA] route. “I think so,” he ventured, and then I heard the phone drop. As he struggled to pick it up, I heard him repeat, “Oh, God! Oh, God!” and then yell, “My hands don’t work!” I yelled back: “Do not drive! Do not hang up! Stay in your truck. I’m coming!”
After a quick explanation to my husband, I ran out the door to my car, pulled up MapQuest for directions to Wichita, and headed west, not sure exactly where I was going. I would problem-solve along the way.
With Gary still on the phone, I called my daughter, Abby, a social worker with keen assessment skills. With a calm and steady voice, she asked questions that Gary, in fragmented and disjointed sentences, tried to answer as best he could. He had left early that morning and was en route to Kansas when he started to lose feeling in his body. After pulling over and parking at a convenience store, he found that he was unable to move. He could not get out of his truck.
I added Matt, my youngest son, to our phone call. With four of us on the line, I knew we could work as a team. Matt was familiar with Gary’s driving routes and locations, so he could add valuable information. Working together, we came up with a plan. Abby would attempt to contact Gary’s boss, Matt would work to locate the convenience store where Gary was parked, and I would continue to drive west. Somewhere down the road, about three hours ahead of me, was my son, alone in his truck.
I stayed on the phone with Gary. Repeatedly he asked, “Mom, are you almost here?” The numbness was rising to his upper extremities. He was unable to dial his phone and had only limited ability to hold it in his hands. When he dozed off periodically, I felt a bit of calmness because I could hear him breathing and knew he was still alive.
Meanwhile, Abby, Matt, and I worked to piece information together. Matt phoned convenience stores along Gary’s route and was able to locate him in the city center of Wichita. We were all relieved when a clerk responded: “Yes. A driver’s been sitting out there for a while now. Want me to check on him?”
So now we knew his location. On the phone, I heard the store worker check on Gary in his truck and felt hope rise when she called an ambulance.
I also heard Gary tell the first responders that he didn’t want to go to the hospital. I called out “No!” and told Gary to hand the phone to an EMT. After I informed the responders about the morning’s events, they transported Gary to a hospital in Wichita.
My daughter was unable to reach Gary’s supervisor because the company office would not open until 6 a.m. But by the grace of God, the boss called Gary while my son was on the phone with me, and I was able to tell him the story. Abby then took over coordinating with company personnel the transfer of Gary’s loaded truck to the company.
Although it seemed my long drive from Oklahoma to Kansas would never end, I was relieved, still 30 minutes from my destination, to know Gary was in the hands of emergency personnel and safely en route to a hospital. Arriving at the emergency department (ED), I found Gary with a 101-degree temperature, chills, excruciating headache, severe nausea, and altered cognition. When the physician assistant told me they couldn’t find anything wrong with Gary and planned to discharge him, I responded in disbelief: “You’ve got to be kidding. Just look at him!”
Then the lab results arrived—lactic acid, 4.0; white blood cell count, 15,000—and I reached out to another important member of my family team. My older sister, Patrice, also a nurse, works for the Oklahoma Hospital Association. She said: “Amy, he has sepsis. They need to start the sepsis bundle protocol right now.” My 28-year-old son, an otherwise healthy father of three, was in septic shock.
The ED healthcare team swiftly took action and initiated the one- and three-hour sepsis bundles of care. Fluids were pumped in. A CT scan, X-rays, EEG, spinal tap, and periodic lab work were ordered as they sought to determine the source of infection. And then Gary was transferred to ICU.
I did not want to function in the role of a nurse, overseeing the care of my son. I wanted to be his mom. Without being asked, my sister drove 2 1/2 hours from Oklahoma City to Wichita, where she stayed with me at Gary’s bedside. I let her be the nurse so I could be the mom.
The infusion fluids were nonstop, and three IV antibiotics, including the dreaded vancomycin, were ordered. Gary was barely responsive and would not open his eyes. At 10 p.m., his blood pressure began to drop, and norepinephrine bitartrate was started.
Exhausted, I began to sob. Patrice, who had packed an overnight bag for me, urged me to lie down in the family waiting room. During that time, the only person I trusted to be with Gary was my sister.
After three hours of tears and restless sleep in the waiting room, my phone rang. It was Patrice, still in Gary’s room. He had awakened and asked for me. I ran to his room and found him with his eyes open as he said "Hi." This time, I sobbed with happiness.
It had been 24 hours of hell, but Gary was going to make it. His healthcare team worked seamlessly to treat him and keep him alive. The infection control physician kept me abreast of progress and the test results from Mayo Clinic. Infection control spoke with the primary care physician who spoke with the neurologist who communicated with the nurses. Not once did I see a breakdown or team fumble.
It was teamwork. It wasn’t one person who saved my son’s life! It was our team: my family, my son’s employer, a convenience store clerk, first responders, and healthcare professionals at a hospital in Wichita. It took all of us to save Gary, and for all the members of Team Gary, I am humbly and forever grateful. RNL
Amy M. Richards, PhD, RN-BC, is an assistant professor of nursing in the School of Professional Studies at Rogers State University in Claremore, Oklahoma, USA.
Editor’s note: Amy Richards will present Reducing Test Anxiety in Pre-Licensure Nursing Students With Pet Therapy on Friday, 22 February 2019, at Sigma’s Creating Healthy Work Environments conference in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA.