Health Break | Apply emergency room skills to crisis situations

I am an emergency room nurse. My job does not usually involve writing, but as a way of bringing some light to the subject of “being prepared,” I wanted to write an article offering safety tips. As I write, I hear the words of a familiar carol — “Silent Night, Holy night. All is calm, all is bright.”

Originally, my plan was to address the fears and concerns that had surfaced in the community around the attack of a woman in broad daylight on a local bike path. Breaking the peace in Happy Valley causes much anxiety. We all like to believe that we are safe and sound, as are our children.

Then, the news that shook the nation: Twenty innocents were gunned down. Six adult caretakers also were killed. Is there anyway to be prepared for this? Perhaps there is not. What then, is there to write about that might have some meaning? As we have been reminded of over the course of these past two weeks, sadly, any of us could be called upon to “be there” when an emergency situation unfolds. In many ways, the characteristics and qualities needed to be an effective emergency room nurse can be applied to people who find themselves in a very serious and dangerous situation.

Life presents many opportunities for people to respond either with hope and help, or with despair and inertia. Here are a few pointers from the emergency room for your consideration:

Stay calm: Kerry Whitelock, an internal medicine doctor with Mount Nittany Physician Group, has written a book on this subject. In “Code Calm on the Streets,” co-authored with Dr. Michael J. Asken and released this fall, a study by Honig and Sultan is quoted that defines stress survival skills. These skills are controlled breathing, positive self-talk, visualization or mental rehearsal trained to a level of confidence, and competence.

These skills may be critical to both improved performance and outcomes. Anyone can practice these skills and they will always be useful.

You have to be part of the unknown: This means that you may not have all the answers. You may not know exactly what to do, but you hang in there, with your colleagues, until you can get a “handhold.” Once you can grab on, you keep climbing.

Always be aware of your surroundings: Look around. Who is there to help? What is needed? What is missing? What is my exit strategy if needed?

Use your senses:. Keep alert. What information are you receiving by listening, seeing, touching?

Focus: Don’t be distracted by sounds, voices, or expressions of pain and fear.

Be there for the family: It’s important to hold it together for them, and to comfort them. It’s important to be present.

Of course, there are other tips too. Have the room stocked and the equipment in working condition. Remember the order that procedures are done. It’s a combination of medical and psychological skills that are needed in the ER.

Today, on Christmas Eve, and in memory of the fallen, we might decide that the very best thing we can all do is to stay calm and keep our senses alert. “All is calm, all is bright,” is actually a very powerful phrase, and exactly what’s needed in any emergency.