You can get a glimpse of their life on the hit TV shows like Grey's Anatomy, Chicago Med or ER, but being a trauma nurse in a real-life emergency room can be a challenging, rewarding and exhilarating career path.
"It's not all fun and glory. There are sad days too," said Lea Mathison, who is the Trauma Program Manager at MercyOne Siouxland. "But though you think about the days that you really made an impression and how you really make a difference and that's just what being a nurse is all about. And an ER trauma really encompasses all of that."
Inside the emergency room at MercyOne Siouxland Medical Center, you'll find a Level Two Trauma Center, the 2nd highest certification a hospital can achieve for trauma response.
"We have a trauma surgeon on call 24/7, neurosurgeons, a certain level of radiology and imaging, OR, anesthesia, neurology, all that kind of stuff to have that response," said nurse Barbara Fitzgerald. "What the research has shown is that if you go to where that specialty is you have a better outcome."
Barbara Fitzgerald and Lea Mathison are two of the leading trauma nurses at MercyOne. They are part of a dedicated team that helps anyone who comes into the emergency room.
"And the ER, you know that it could be they checked in for a stubbed toe or they come in carrying their own leg like you had no idea what's gonna come in and you're just, you're just ready for anything," said Mathison. "You're just always on edge. You're always excited. you're always thinking that what am I going to do to be able to help these people."
For many trauma nurses, they thrive on the chaos and the unknown that each day and each patient can bring.
"Here, we have no set routines," said Fitzgerald. "It's whatever walks in that door and it can be anything from the most minor injury to the most major, to very life-threatening and being able to take that and do a huge trauma where everything is just crazy and chaotic. And then turn around and go back in and do something much more simple like laceration and still kind of get that same. Like, let's go let's get it done. Let's get them taken care of," she continued.
"But not only am I the right-hand person of the trauma surgery, ER doctor, but I do everything to help stabilize that patient, said Mathison. "And that just brings home to me of the success stories that I could bring. I contributed to that. I really made a difference in those patients' lives."
And both Mathison and Fitzgerald have had patients and families return to thank them for helping them through their toughest days.
"I had somebody come back and thanked me for saving her life and thanking me for saving her dad's life even though her mom had passed away," said Mathison, "it was a very tragic moment, but it's very heartwarming at the fact that I was able to be there for her hardest time."
There are even moments when these nurses see their own loved ones brought through the ER doors. "Three years after I started here, my dad came in as a code red," said Fitzgerald. "He was flown in by helicopter. I tell you what, the ER nurses are amazing that they can turn around and you know, this person is going get taken care of to the best of their ability, they're getting the best treatment."
For those of us who don't work in an ER, what goes on inside may look unorganized and disordered, but it is actually a well-oiled machine where nurses and the rest of the team know what it takes to give their patients the best chance at going home beginning the moment they come through the emergency room doors.
"I think the biggest thing is that you've got to have that just that personality that kind of thrives on chaos and is able to roll with it and just kind of say, you know, 'this is me, we're doing it. I want something exciting," Fitzgerald said of the nurses who work on the ER floor.
"If there's a chance and we can change it, we will," said Fitzgerald, "and that's what makes any ER nurse, that's what makes me want to be an ER nurse is being able to say, hey, we really made a difference this time." These nurses work at the top of their skillset doing everything from vital checks to chest tubes and prioritizing patients' emergent medical needs. "The ER is meant to be the safety net for society. If you don't know where to go, they come here," said Fitzgerald, "and that's what makes unfortunately sometimes your wait here longer or your run through here much longer."
"That's really what an ER nurse is," said Mathison, "is that somebody that's going to make a difference and think, think on your toes and just the critical thinking skills and the anticipation of what that physician is going to need and that's really what we do."
Because for the MercyOne trauma team, coming to work and owning up, means making a difference is saving lives each and every day.
"You don't know what you're walking into but you know that it's gonna be something new every day," said Fitzgerald.
"We are life savers. We are incredible life-saving bodies and it's not just myself," said Mathison. "All of my nurses that are trauma nurses, they are phenomenal and they're lifesavers and they do wonderful things."
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