School Nursing

The Relentless School Nurse: A New School Nurse’s Experience with Sudden Cardiac Arrest

Over the last eleven years, I’ve had the honor of teaching the next generation of school nurses in the Rutgers-Camden School Nurse Certification Program. Witnessing the endeavors of my students and admiring their resilience is a source of inspiration.  I guide adult learners, skilled nurses who are eager to step into the unfamiliar realm of school nursing. Some of our students are already working as school nurses through Emergency Certification while they complete their coursework. I visit these students in their summer practicum placements and have an opportunity to have one-on-one time with them in their health offices. On a recent visit, one of my students shared her experience as a brand-new school nurse, who came face to face with a life-threatening emergency in her first weeks of school. Here is her story, shared anonymously…

As I walked into work on my first day as a school nurse, I honestly had no idea what to expect. Everyone kept telling me what an easy job school nursing is and how lucky I am to leave bedside ICU nursing behind. I was unsure if I would like the change of pace or working with children, but I felt ready for a new challenge. I remember being told that nothing really serious ever happens; nothing like what I am used to in the hospital. Little did I know, the first month of my journey as a school nurse would end in a life-or-death emergency. 

That Friday started like every other day; however, it is now a day that will be forever ingrained in my memory. It was a quiet morning when a secretary came running into my office saying someone upstairs was having a seizure. I thought to myself, “Ok, here we go, the first emergency of my school nursing career.” I grabbed my go-bag, and all the seizure medications I had, and ran upstairs. The only problem was I had no idea where to go, so the secretary ran upstairs alongside guiding me through the hallways. 

Rounding the corner into the room I saw two flaccid feet protruding out from behind a desk. As I continued in further, I saw a lifeless body on the floor and everyone around him crying or in disbelief. It was our two security guards, myself, and my limited supplies as I immediately started compressions after no pulse was found.

After 12 long minutes of CPR and one shock from the AED, he regained a pulse and consciousness, waking up and asking me who I was and what happened. We had not met yet; I was a total stranger who ripped open his shirt as he was laying there on the floor exposed with blood all over him from the cut on his head. I introduced myself and oriented him to what had occurred, and his only response was, “Nice to meet you.”  Thankfully, he survived and made a full recovery, returning to work a few months later.

As I returned to my office, arms filled with supplies and blood on my scrubs, I saw a line of students waiting for me. A hurt ankle, a ripped contact lens, multiple students waiting for their daily medication, and all I wanted to do was sneak away to take a minute to breathe. The adrenaline you get during an experience like that is intense. How do you just pick up where you left off with your normal daily tasks? I remember spending the rest of the afternoon trying to catch up on what I fell behind on. The events of the morning were constantly replaying in my mind as I waited to hear an update from his family. 

During the debrief, I was not shy about voicing my concerns. When asked what I need, I answered without hesitation, “A second full-time nurse.” While my request has not yet been granted, a lot of other changes have taken place. The IT department programmed my office extension in every building phone. Now, no one has to remember my extension or even dial it, they can reach me with a push of one button labeled “Nurse.” Necessary updates were made to our sudden cardiac arrest emergency plans and policy to reflect evidence-based practice, and our school teamed with Englewood Hospital to offer CPR classes to all staff who want to be trained. AED maps now hang in every classroom and cardiac arrest drills are practiced often.

Every day I arrive at my high school I think about the potential emergencies that I could be faced with today. I try to prepare myself the best I can and be the most I can be for the students. I learned a ton in my first year as a school nurse and encourage all school nurses everywhere to continue advocating for yourselves and your students, and continue being amazing!

1 thought on “The Relentless School Nurse: A New School Nurse’s Experience with Sudden Cardiac Arrest”

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.