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