Making a difference
Nurses do extraordinary things and often never see the end result of their work. For days they may care for a patient and return for their next shift to find that their patient has left the ward. They may never know exactly what happened to the patient, however, they always hope that they have made a positive difference.
For Dr Jane Maguire, a senior lecturer in Nursing at the University of Newcastle an extraordinary event occurred during a recent flight from Sydney to Jacksonville, Florida. Jane was flying to the USA to take part in a meeting of the International Stroke Genetics Consortium (ISGC) in her capacity as the national manager for the Australian Stroke Genetics Collaboration (ASGC). The collaboration is currently conducting the first Australian Genome Wide Association study into ischaemic stroke.
At ten thousand feet and two hours out of Sydney airport, an announcement came over the planes intercom requesting assistance from any medical staff on board the plane. Jane is a registered nurse and was the only passenger aboard the plane who responded to the request.
Flight attendants took Jane to a large, elderly man sitting in a window seat who appeared to have experienced a major seizure. Jane reassured the man who was excessively drowsy after the event and began to work with the available medical equipment to ascertain his vital signs and stabilise his condition.
The situation was extremely challenging, as the light within the plane was poor and the engine noise was making it difficult to accurately take a blood pressure reading. The man had also become wedged into his seat after the seizure and was unable to be moved. Jane had to palpate the man's blood pressure to obtain an accurate approximation.
The man's wife told Jane that her husband had been recently diagnosed with diabetes, had a history of hypertension and was on various medications for the same. Upon completion of a clinical and physical assessment, it was clear to Jane that the man was hypotensive, his blood sugar level was high and he was observed to have a right sided facial droop. With Jane's clinical background in stroke she was concerned that the man may have experienced a stroke.
The captain asked Jane if she would be able to nurse the man through the flight to the USA. Jane knew that she was being asked to make a decision that was critical to the man's survival. Jane recommended that the plane should turn around based upon the evidence that the patient's condition was not improving and he needed further urgent medical assessment.
Brisbane airport was now the closest airport and the plane turned around. Jane stayed with the man throughout the return journey to monitor his observations. At Brisbane airport the plane was met by ambulance officers who conducted a medical handover with Jane and then evacuated the man from the plane by wheel chair.
After an additional five hours of unexpected travel time, Jane arrived in Jacksonville Florida. The close relationship between this in-flight possible stroke incident and the stroke meeting she was attending was not lost on Jane or her international colleagues.
Jane has now returned home to Newcastle and finds herself reflecting on the empowering nature of her experience and the sense of responsibility. To this day Jane does not know what happened to the man, but, Jane does know without a doubt that she made a difference.
The 11th International Stroke Genetics Consortium Conference will be held in Newcastle from April 12 to April 13, 2012.