Trusting Gut Instincts, Saving Lives

I’ve been a nurse for going on 36 years. My background is primarily intensive care nursing. I have done a little bit of everything, except for ED and labor and delivery. 

I remember one incident very specifically from when I was an intensive care nurse.

The father of one of my co-workers had to have bypass surgery. I was taking care of him post-op and something just didn’t look right about him. His EKG didn’t look right, and I didn’t like how he looked.

His color was very gray and very ashy. For someone who had just had his heart arteries opened, he looked like he would if they were still closed off. He didn’t say he was in pain, but when he moved even slightly, he looked very pained.


I didn’t like how his numbers looked, but nothing was specifically wrong. I called the doctor and said, “Something’s just not right. I just feel it in my gut.” We took him for scans and discovered he had a dissected aorta.

Most people bleed out and die within minutes if their aorta dissects. This gentleman had a balloon pump in his aorta helping his heart rest after surgery, and it was keeping him alive because it wasn’t allowing his aorta to just bleed out. With every contraction of the balloon pump, he would lose a little blood out of his aorta. With every expansion, the blood loss was stopped.

He probably would have eventually died had we not found the dissected aorta when we did. He would have slowly just kept bleeding out into his body.

It felt amazing to have recognized that something wasn’t right. We were able to save the man’s life. We had him transported to a hospital in Houston and he survived. 


She hugged me and said, ‘Thank you for saving my husband’s life.’

Sandra Burton Senior Clinical Informaticist at Vocera

There was also another time when I saw a patient, a man in his forties, who didn’t look quite right. 

I called the doctor and said, “Hey, something is going on. His EKG’s not showing it yet. His blood pressure’s not showing it yet.”

The doctor and I had a good enough relationship that he was listening to my intuition. We took the man emergently to the heart cath lab and found that his left anterior descending artery was completely closed off. They call it the widow maker. He probably would have died from it.

After he was out of the hospital, I was at Walmart. His wife was there shopping too, and she came up to me, crying. She hugged me and said, “Thank you for saving my husband’s life.”

I was happy she remembered me and that her husband was still alive and doing well.

Author
Sandra Burton
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RN
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Senior Clinical Informaticist at Vocera, Supporting Clients Throughout the United States and Canada
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Sandra Burton
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Sandra-Burton

I’ve been a nurse for going on 36 years. My background is primarily intensive care nursing. I have done a little bit of everything, except for ED and labor and delivery. 

I remember one incident very specifically from when I was an intensive care nurse.

The father of one of my co-workers had to have bypass surgery. I was taking care of him post-op and something just didn’t look right about him. His EKG didn’t look right, and I didn’t like how he looked.

His color was very gray and very ashy. For someone who had just had his heart arteries opened, he looked like he would if they were still closed off. He didn’t say he was in pain, but when he moved even slightly, he looked very pained.


I didn’t like how his numbers looked, but nothing was specifically wrong. I called the doctor and said, “Something’s just not right. I just feel it in my gut.” We took him for scans and discovered he had a dissected aorta.

Most people bleed out and die within minutes if their aorta dissects. This gentleman had a balloon pump in his aorta helping his heart rest after surgery, and it was keeping him alive because it wasn’t allowing his aorta to just bleed out. With every contraction of the balloon pump, he would lose a little blood out of his aorta. With every expansion, the blood loss was stopped.

He probably would have eventually died had we not found the dissected aorta when we did. He would have slowly just kept bleeding out into his body.

It felt amazing to have recognized that something wasn’t right. We were able to save the man’s life. We had him transported to a hospital in Houston and he survived. 


She hugged me and said, ‘Thank you for saving my husband’s life.’

Sandra Burton Senior Clinical Informaticist at Vocera

There was also another time when I saw a patient, a man in his forties, who didn’t look quite right. 

I called the doctor and said, “Hey, something is going on. His EKG’s not showing it yet. His blood pressure’s not showing it yet.”

The doctor and I had a good enough relationship that he was listening to my intuition. We took the man emergently to the heart cath lab and found that his left anterior descending artery was completely closed off. They call it the widow maker. He probably would have died from it.

After he was out of the hospital, I was at Walmart. His wife was there shopping too, and she came up to me, crying. She hugged me and said, “Thank you for saving my husband’s life.”

I was happy she remembered me and that her husband was still alive and doing well.

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