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Nurse Profiles

ER Nurses Answer the Call — Any Way They Can

Two very different scenarios exemplify service to patients

By Al Lagattolla
few months ago, Jerry Mills, BSN, RN, went to an NFL playoff game in Cincinnati and saved a life. David Scher, MPH, MSN, RN, CEN, helped dozens of patients register to vote during the 2020 election cycle. In very different ways, these two Emergency Nurses Association RN members answered the call of service with meaningful acts of selflessness and dedication to their profession.

Saving a Life

Mills wasn’t sure he would even be able to go to Cincinnati for the game against his Bengals and the Las Vegas Raiders. It was mid-January, and the Dallas-based nurse noted that, “We were thick in the middle of COVID.” But, as a Cincinnati native and a lifelong Bengals fan, he really wanted to go. Plus, his brother-in-law, Justin Hill, is the Bengals’ running back coach. Hill offered a ticket, and Mills’ wife, who is also a nurse, urged her husband to go. After all he needed a break. Going turned out to be an important decision. Before the game, as fans were entering Paul Brown Stadium, Mills noticed a man who appeared to stumble and fall. As Mills moved closer, he could see that quick action was needed. Mills stayed calm and performed CPR, helping to save the man’s life.
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“To the layperson’s eyes, he looks like he’s trying to breathe,” Mills said. “But he was agonal. You could see the color leaving his face. He didn’t have a pulse. I’ve seen that look before. It’s a lack of blood flow to the brain. They’re posturing.” He added, “I get down to look at him, and I’m like, ‘This doesn’t look right. He’s seizing.' I felt for a pulse and started CPR trying to get him back. As I’m getting contractions, we get a pulse on him, and he started coming around.” The man Mills saved turned out to be a Raiders fan. According to Mills, he and the man are now friends and keep in touch. He learned later that the man suffered cardiac arrest and needed to have five stents placed in his heart, and he might have died if Mills hadn’t been there.
“To the layperson’s eyes, he looks like he’s trying to breathe. But he was agonal. You could see the color leaving his face.”
— Jerry Mills, RN
He shares credit with another nurse who jumped in to help before stadium medical staff took over. Those providing assistance were able to restore the man’s heart rhythm to normal and help him to an ambulance. Mills, who earned his nursing license while working as a firefighter, says his extensive experience as an emergency department nurse helped keep him calm in this life-or-death situation. When he did eventually head to his seat to watch the game, along with other friends and family of the coaching staff, Mills said he shared the incident on Facebook but didn’t share it with the other spectators at the game. When the story began circulating the next day, some in attendance at the game asked why he didn’t mention it. “I never wanted to get recognition. It was just like, hey, that’s something I did,” said Mills, who currently works in the intensive care unit at the Dallas VA Medical Center. “Life goes on.”

Voter Registration Tips in the ED

David Scher has been an emergency department nurse at Penn Medicine, University of Pennsylvania Health System, for more than 10 years and has master’s degrees in nursing education and public health. In addition to his many responsibilities as an ED nurse, Scher has taken on what he sees as an important civic duty by helping patients register to vote through a program called Vot-ER, a nonpartisan, grassroots organization. Vot-ER helps ensure that healthcare spaces like hospitals and clinics can help patients register to vote. Scher said participants in the program are given tips on how to start conversations with patients regarding voter registration. They’re also supplied with lanyards and badges that signal their participation in the program and can act as a conversation starter with patients. Patients can scan the QR code on the badge using their phones to quickly access information about how and where to register to vote. “It’s really that simple,” Scher said. “Most patients who I have spoken with have been receptive to registering to vote, so long as you deliver that information in a direct and matter-of-fact manner. I see it more of a civic responsibility rather than a public service.”
“Nurses are taught and trained to advocate for patients, and one way to do that is to help our patients to register to vote.”
— David Scher, RN
Healthcare providers who participate in the program are asked to use their “best judgement to assess when and how to speak with a patient about their voter status,” according to the Vot-ER website, which added that, “You are a clinician first and foremost, and it may not be appropriate in all circumstances.” In Scher's eyes, his outreach with patients as part of the program was an extension of his role in patient advocacy. “Nurses are taught and trained to advocate for patients, and one way to do that is to help our patients to register to vote,” he said. “Voting is a right, and ensuring that right is protected and utilized is inherently a good thing to do.” The goal, Scher said, is to encourage people to vote to have a voice in elections that impact their health. Scher spoke with more than 50 people during the 2020 election cycle for national and local elections. If patients did not want to engage, Scher wouldn’t push it. But most were receptive. “Voter registration should be widely adopted across the health space,” he said. “Democracy isn’t a passive thing to merely watch and be a spectator. Helping patients register to vote is advocacy at its highest core, and it’s one of the noblest things we can do as nurses.” He added, “We have a responsibility to support our patients, and this is one of the many ways we can do that.”
Al Lagattolla is a freelance writer.