On a warm day in early October, MDE student Julie West ’18, had just finished a clinical nursing shift at Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital when she watched a van swerve and crash into several parked cars. The van pushed one car onto a sidewalk and nearly hit multiple pedestrians, causing debris to fly into the air, some of which hit her directly. After assessing that she wasn’t physically hurt, she jumped into action and ran toward the scene.
West quickly saw that only those inside the van were injured, and that the airbags had been deployed. An elderly driver had blood all over his face, and his wife in the passenger seat was complaining that she wasn’t able to breathe. An adult passenger in the back of the van said he was “shaken,” but otherwise felt fine.
West says she called 911, took their vital signs and began to assess the severity of their injuries. Above all, she says she remained calm and continuously checked the elderly couple’s pulses, respiratory rates, lung sounds, and bleeding until EMS arrived on scene. She says her aim was to keep the couple engaged until help showed up.
West spoke with Columbia Nursing about the crash, her response, and what she learned from the experience:
Tell us a little about yourself:
I will graduate from the MDE program with my MSN in August 2018 and will graduate with a DNP in May of 2021. I am originally from Houston, Texas, and moved to the northeast six years ago. I worked as a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) for 11 years in women’s health and pediatric home health.
After a divorce, as a single mother to an infant, I went back to school to finish my bachelor’s degree, and then on to graduate school at Columbia where I earned my master’s in health administration in May 2017. I’m now re-married, and my daughter is six years old.
What was going through your head when you saw the car crash onto the sidewalk?
After I realized that I was unharmed, I was concerned for the people who were potentially injured. I just wanted to make sure that they were taken care of as quickly as possible.
What did you learn from this situation?
I learned that I am capable of jumping into an unexpected emergency like this without hesitation.
How did your education here at Columbia Nursing play a part in how you reacted?
Columbia Nursing has emphasized critical thinking and immediate assessment of the patient and environment. I was able to use these skills to quickly adapt to the situation and act with confidence.
In addition, the simulation lab is a really amazing opportunity offered by Columbia Nursing. As students we get to experience hospital scenarios with life-like manikins to practice our skills and challenge our abilities. I’m certain that it helped me have confidence in myself, knowing that I can jump into a situation and use the skills that I’ve learned at Columbia Nursing.
What advice would you give to fellow students should they find themselves in a similar situation?
I think it’s important to assess safety for yourself first; you’re not going to be able to help anyone if it’s not safe for you. I didn’t provide any real life-saving measures, but I was able to use my basic skills and--probably more importantly—my compassion. I would advise others not to underestimate themselves. Always give what you can to the people around you who need help.
How does this incident impact your thoughts about becoming a nurse?
I’m glad that I can be “there” for people. I want to be a nurse to help people on a holistic level. I feel like I didn’t actually do much for the people in the accident, but it made a difference to the victims that I was there, and I think that is such an important part of health care and healing.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I don’t think I’ve done anything any different than what any of my peers would have done, but it is nice to be recognized for it.