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Frozen like a rabbit in headlights: My first crash call

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Louise talks us through her first crash call as a student nurse.


During our first year of training many of my cohort were involved in cardiac arrest calls. I was always fascinated by what they had to say and how such a massive event made them feel, but secretly I was absolutely scared witless.

It wasn’t until my second week of placement in second year that my fears were realised and I witnessed my first cardiac arrest call.

I had no time to think about what to do or even where to stand and was totally unprepared.

It had been a normal morning and I was busy assisting patients with their washes and helping them get dressed when I heard the dreaded sound… the continuous buzzer wailing.

I knew immediately that it was a cardiac arrest call.

I excused myself from my patient, letting my colleague took over, and found myself stood in the middle of the ward.

It was madness.

People were rushing around so quickly but with obvious efficiency, and I just stood frozen to the spot like a rabbit in the headlights. I couldn’t move forwards or backwards it felt like an eternity until I heard my mentor shout “Louise, go! Go now!” So I did just that, walked quickly, taking care not to panic, all the way to the other side of the ward.

Emotions flashed through me and adrenaline kicked in. When I arrived at the scene, many doctors and nurses were already working on the patient. Feeling useless, I stepped back towards the curtain but one of the nurses waved me to come closer and asked me to support the patient and talk to them. I spoke calmly, stroking the patient’s head, while taking care not to obstruct the doctors and nurses.

What seemed like hours was over in a few minutes and the patient was stabilised.

I felt myself gasp with relief, this huge emotional experience that I had never before been part of was over. I felt great knowing I had supported the patient and even though I played only a small role, I was still part of the life-saving team.

The nurse who had waved me over put her hand on my shoulder and told me I had done well. I felt so good about this, it made all my worries and anxieties go away!

Before this event, I always over analysed about the ‘what ifs’ and ‘buts’, I now realise this coping mechanism is irrelevant.

Yes, listen to other students’ experiences but always make your first experience just that - yours and yours alone. Don’t be swayed by scary or heroic stories as your first crash call will be an emotional and amazing personal journey of your own.

Make sure you take time to reflect afterwards, speak to your mentor or someone involved at the time, ask them for their advice and find out if you could have improved on anything. Whether you were able to get involved or just observed, reflection will help you take a more active part in the team next time.


Louise Goodyear is Student Nursing Times’ adult branch student editor

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