For 2 Nurses, Working In The ICU Is 'A Gift Of A Job'

Aug 30, 2019
Originally published on August 30, 2019 12:26 pm

For nurses Kristin Sollars and Marci Ebberts, work is more than just a job.

"Don't you feel like you're a nurse everywhere you go?" Sollars, 41, asked Ebberts, 46, on a visit to StoryCorps in May.

"I mean, let's be honest, every time we get on a plane you're like, E6 didn't look good to me. Keep an eye out there."

Sollars and Ebberts have grown so close while working together that they've come to call themselves "work wives." They first met in 2007, working side by side in the intensive care unit at Saint Luke's Hospital in Kansas City, Mo.

Now they work closely as nurse educators at the hospital, training other nurses in critical care.

"Between us, we've taken care of thousands of critically ill patients," Ebberts said. "You carry a little bit of them with you. And they shape you."

Sollars and Ebberts reflect on how their work influences their memories.

"When I think about that patient, that is the most seared in my brain, I know exactly what bed but I cannot tell you the patient's name," Sollars said. She goes on to remember a particularly unforgettable case: "I always think about CCU (Coronary Care Unit) Bed 2."

The patient had a cardiac arrest. "We code him, and we get that heart rate back," she said, describing their resuscitation efforts that stabilized the patient.

"And that was just the first of a dozen times that he coded," Ebberts remembered.

All the while, his wife was by his side.

"We were giving her the bad prognosis. Things were looking really bad, and she said, 'Can I be in bed with him?' " Sollars said.

But the nurses saw that as a risk. "This man's got everything we've got in the hospital attached to him," Sollars recalled.

"So many wires and tubes and monitors," Ebberts added.

Still, they proceeded carefully, slowly lifting everything so she could wiggle in next to him.

"I can just remember her sobbing, saying, you know, I wasn't a good enough wife. I should have loved you better," Sollars said.

When the patient again suffered an irregular, life-threatening heart rhythm called ventricular fibrillation, Sollars and Ebberts started another round of chest compressions.

But this time, the patient's wife asked the nurses to stop trying to resuscitate him. "We're gonna let him go next time he does that," Ebberts remembers his wife saying.

Sollars says the rewarding part as a nurse is caring for patients and their families during these crucial life moments, as difficult as they can be to witness.

"To be with people and to create those environments where they get to say their unfinished business to their husband — it's such a gift of a job," Sollars said. "Sometimes I wonder why everyone in the world doesn't want to be a nurse."

Sollars says nursing levels her sense of what's important.

"It does impact the way we see the entire world. That person in front of us in the grocery store is all worked up about how that guy bagged their groceries," she said.

"Nobody's dying," Ebberts said, "until someone is. And then we're ready."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Aisha Turner and Camila Kerwin.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It's time now for StoryCorps. And going into this Labor Day weekend, a story about work. Kristin Sollars and Marci Ebberts are nurses at Saint Luke's Hospital in Kansas City, Mo. They worked side by side in the intensive care unit for years. And they grew so close, they called themselves work wives.

Kristin and Marci sat down at StoryCorps to reflect on how their work is so much more than just a job.

KRISTIN SOLLARS: Don't you feel like you're a nurse everywhere you go? I mean, let's be honest, every time we get on a plane, you're like, E6 didn't look good to me. You know, you...

MARCI EBBERTS: Yeah, keep an eye out.

SOLLARS: ...Keep an eye up there.

EBBERTS: Between us, we've taken care of thousands of critically ill patients.

SOLLARS: Yeah. When I think about that patient that is the most seared in my brain, I know exactly what bed they were in. But I cannot tell you the patient's name. I always think about CCU Bed 2 - that guy with his wife...

EBBERTS: Oh, yeah.

SOLLARS: ...You remember that? Cardiac arrest on the stairs to bed. And we code him, and we get that heart rate back.

EBBERTS: And that was just the first of a dozen times...

SOLLARS: Oh.

EBBERTS: ...That he coded.

SOLLARS: Yeah. We were giving her the bad prognosis. Things were looking really bad. And she said, can I be in bed with him? This man's got everything we've got in the hospital attached...

EBBERTS: So many wires...

SOLLARS: ...To him.

EBBERTS: ...And tubes and monitors...

SOLLARS: From the head and the foot in the left and the right. And we go in and we lift all those things that are attached to him. And we wiggle her from the foot of the bed to lying next to him. And I can just remember her sobbing, saying, you know, I wasn't a good enough wife; I should have loved you better.

EBBERTS: I remember when there he goes into V-fib again and we had to start compressions again. And then she said stop. We're going to let him go next time he does that.

SOLLARS: To be with people and to create those environments where they get to say their unfinished business to their husband - it's such a gift of a job. Sometimes I wonder why everyone in the world doesn't want to be a nurse.

EBBERTS: All your patients, you carry a little bit of them with you. And they shape you.

SOLLARS: It does impact the way we see the entire world. That person in front of us in the grocery store is all worked up about how that guy bagged their groceries.

EBBERTS: I mean, what do you mean you can't take this coupon?

SOLLARS: Yeah. This isn't worth getting so worked up about.

EBBERTS: Nobody's dying.

SOLLARS: Yeah.

EBBERTS: Until someone is. And then we're ready.

SOLLARS: And then we're ready.

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MARTIN: Kristin Sollars and Marci Ebberts - their interview will be archived along with hundreds of thousands of others at the Library of Congress. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.