I Would Learn The Healer’s Art

As a part of the 50th anniversary of the BYU College of Nursing, a book was compiled called “The Healer’s Art: 50 stories for 50 years.” It has been 15 years since this book was first published and these stories were shared. We plan to regularly post selections from this book to help each of us remember and cherish the experiences of nursing and learning the Healer’s art. 

I Would Learn The Healer’s Art

Judy Malzahn Ellsworth

Working in the Operating Room at Fairfax Hospital in Northern Virginia meant never having a dull moment.  Fairfax Hospital is just blocks off the western end of the Washington D.C. Beltway on the Virginia side.  Each day brought new challenges, and we had to be ready for anything.

I was working as the Assistant Head Nurse in charge of the Operating Room from 4:00 pm until midnight every day.  One Sunday afternoon I got a call from the delivery room telling me that they had a very serious situation.  A mother who had just delivered was hemorrhaging and they were unable to control it…did we have an operating room available?  We had four rooms running, and that was the maximum we could run that afternoon.  I told them I would call them right back.

I talked with Anesthesia, and we decided that I could scrub the case, and we would pull a circulator from a case that would be finishing within the hour to circulate for me, if Delivery would send an RN down to circulate in the ‘easy’ room.  Arrangements were made with the Critical Care Supervisor to man the OR desk, and the go-ahead was given for the case to proceed.

I rushed to pull the case, scrub, and set up the room.  While I was busy, the doctors brought the anesthetized patient into the room and prepped her for abdominal surgery. I put all the drapes on a draping table and told them they were on their own, as I was still opening instruments and setting up the Mayo. By the time I brought my Mayo to the field, I had gowned and gloved a doctor and two residents, and the patient was fully draped and ready to go.

The case was truly a serious situation.  This was in the days before the ‘Bovie’, and we clamped and tied each bleeder.  Every time a bleeder was clamped, the clamp acted like a hot knife going through butter.  We changed to using a needle to just tie off the bleeders.  This didn’t work any better.  We packed her abdomen and waited to see if the bleeders would clot off.  This was not successful.  The situation was getting desperate.

I was feeling heartsick at our seemingly helpless situation.  I knew this particular doctor was not one that any of us would refer anyone to, and I knew we needed help.  I felt like the patient was my sister, and I could feel the tears beginning to sting my eyes.  I was the charge nurse, and I was scrubbed in the case and unable to call for anyone to come to help us.  While we were waiting to see if packing the abdomen was going to be successful, I turned to my back table, closed my eyes and pleaded with Heavenly Father to please send someone quickly, as this new mother needed more help than this physician was able to give her.

About 10 minutes later the door to the operating room opened slightly and the Chief of OB/Gyn peeked inside.  He said he’d been out on a Sunday drive with his boys, and he felt like he needed to stop in at the hospital to see how everything was going.  The doctor who was operating explained the situation, but said he thought he had everything under control.  The Chief asked if he thought he could use another hand, to which the doctor said, “No!”  I was shocked, and I looked at the Chief and said, “I have an extra gown here, what size gloves do you wear?”  (He later told me the look in my eyes told him he’d better start scrubbing STAT!)

We worked for three more hours, with the Chief eventually taking over the case.  The patient was saved, and my grateful heart said several prayers of thanksgiving while we were working.

As we were finishing the case, the doctor said that he was so happy that we had been able to save her.  She was LDS and this was her eighth child.  I said to him, “Will you tell her that I am also a Mormon, and I was her nurse during her surgery?”

When the patient was taken to the Post Anesthesia Care Unit (Recovery Room), I realized that the doctors and circulator had forgotten to take her chart with them.  I picked the chart up and started to take it to PACU when I read the nameplate of the patient.  Imagine my shock when I realized that my impressions during the surgery of this being “my sister” were correct.  She had been my visiting teaching companion when we both lived in Seattle, Washington several years before!  Neither one of us knew that we were now both living in the Washington, D.C. area.

I called up to the Delivery Room and asked for her husband to come down to the Recovery Room.  When he arrived, I asked him if he had his consecrated oil with him.  He did, and he had a friend with him.  I arranged for them to give his wife a blessing.

I am grateful that not only was I privileged to learn The Healer’s Art at the Lord’s university, but that I was also taught to listen to the promptings of the Spirit and act accordingly.  Being a BYU graduate has been an honor, and it has allowed me many missionary opportunities.  Being a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been an enormous blessing to me personally, and to all those who have been entrusted to my care.

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