Finding Peace Here


I watched four people die this weekend, four people. Sounds horrifying right? Well, it is.

Surely these people must have been sweet little 90 year olds, who lived long happy lives, drifting quietly off into the night surrounded by family they love. Well, that is not my story, in fact, that’s never my story. My story is filled with people who woke up, got dressed, and started their day, just like you and I, having no idea that it would be their last.

The room above looks so benign, shiny and new, full of promise and cutting edge medical equipment, ready for whatever may roll through the doors. Exactly what you would want if you were the one lying in the bed. But, there is much more here than meets the eye. So many things, things that can’t be seen by those who haven’t stood in this place time and time again.

You may wonder what could hide here, what could be lurking behind the glass doors and freshly painted walls. Just what do I see when I look at this place? I see so many things. I see countless hours of hard work, sweat, and tears. I see a floor covered in blood, trash, gloves, and whatever else may land there in the middle of the mess. I hear gut wrenching screams, the indescribable sound of a weeping mother, and the words “time of death” many more times than I care to admit. I hear the pumping of the level one, the hum of a ventilator, slamming drawers, alarming monitors, and the loud sigh of relief when we “get them back.” I see gowns, trauma surgeons, confused patients, ET tubes, code carts, flushed faces, shaking hands, and countless lives, both saved and lost. You see, I have been on both sides of this bed, and I can tell you they are equally terrifying.

You may think that there is no way anyone could find peace here, or that there is any way to see beauty in this mess. To tell you the truth, some days I’m not sure either. Some days I leave defeated, I let the dark win, and I am certain there is no way I can work one more shift. Then, just when I know I can’t step back in that room, something amazing happens. We save a life, one, that’s all it takes, and you know you can pick up the pieces and carry on. I recently cared for a patient with dissecting AAA, scary shit, I don’t care how many times you’ve done it. This man drove himself to the hospital and arrested walking through the triage doors. Incredible timing right? Not only did he regain consciousness in the ED before going to the OR, he walked out of the hospital a week later, that’s right, walked out. AMAZING! How does that even happen? That shiny room worked its ass off that day and won, we won! I can’t describe the feeling. Nothing can compare to saving a life.

In the middle of the chaos it’s hard to see the significance of the work we do. We just power through whatever the task is at hand. Lines, labs, intubation, compressions, chest tubes, splints, the list goes on and on. It isn’t until after the event that we can step back and look at what we have done. What went well, what could have gone better, and come to grips with the fact that the person we just cared for was in fact a person, not a job, not a task, but a human being. Someone with a life, and a story of their own. For me, it’s in that very moment I find strength and peace in what we do. There is always something beautiful, even in the worst of situations. The pure will to fight, to live, and to carry on, even when it hurts to breathe, is what keeps me coming back for more.

So yes, that room can be a horrific place. It can be scary and lonely, but it can also be amazing and inspirational, a place of love and triumph. Each day, each patient, brings a new chance to fight, to win, and to find beauty in unthinkable circumstances. Behind those glass doors are many hidden things. Many things that most people will never see or feel. Things that have made me laugh, made me cry, built me up, and knocked me down. Most of these things can’t be shared, and that’s ok, they don’t really need to be. If you live it you understand why, and you also understand how it’s possible, to find peace here.


Photo credit: MCR trauma room in Loveland, Colorado

149 thoughts on “Finding Peace Here

    1. This brought me to tears. I was at work last night til 1am saving the life of a hemorrhaging young mother after giving birth to her first child. It was awful. As you said, we worked hard, and for that, she back up on the ward with her new son. This job is truly rewarding and for that, I will make it through another shift tonight. Paula RN

      1. I was a young mother who hemorrhaged after giving birth to her first child. It was doctors and nurses, like you, who saved my life. I wish I’d been lucid enough back then to let the nurses know how much I appreciated them. I hope they knew anyway!

    2. This is so true. It’s our reason for coming back. A patients’s family was going to give me a $20 tip for caring for his dad yesterday. I told him No thank you. We do this because we want to and his thank you was enough. After 31 years in the ED there have been many days I left wondering how
      much longer I can do this but each day brings new rewards and that’s the catalyst for continuing.

  1. I called LifeShare 4 times in one weekend. That was my worst weekend! Thank you for putting into words what we have all felt and experienced.

  2. Eloquent. Been in the ED for 15+ years and wrote a Dissertation on the stress; both good and bad. thanks for sharing.

    Steve, Phd, ARNP

  3. Thank you for being able to express what so many of us, like me, just don’t have the words to say! I have recently moved back to this area, and I am taking a break from the emergency department. I miss the action and pace some days!

  4. All that is left to be said is thanks to all those who choose to be the ones to save every life they can. They are willing to experience all the highs, lows, successes and failures to give others that second chance. Dedication, love for others, compassion, training and guts all focused to preserve life.
    God bless each of you!

  5. Thank you so much for this insight. I was able to read it (though I’ll never pretend to full understand what it’s really like) through a share by Garrett.

  6. We do have the great honor of working to save others. It makes me grateful for every day and every minute I have with those I love.

  7. I’m not an OR nurse or even part of the OR team, but I got to see our CVOR team in action when our system transitioned to EPIC. I was a “Super User” and had the privilege to join them for about 6 weeks and I know they’ll never admit it, but I think I was in their way more often than I was helping. I always knew they were incredible, but to actually see them perform was an incredible experience for me. I’ll never know the low of losing a patient or the high of saving one, but I’ll always remember my experience in the OR with a sense of awe.

  8. Beautifully written. My eyes and heart has experienced what Melina’s has in all my years as an ED nurse. Memories of patients that have and will forever touch my life. I contribute who I am today to many who have found peace in these rooms.

    1. After 21years ER Nursing I totally agree with the previous speakers. To be able to hold a hand, give encouragement to a pt whose future is uncertain and be able to “bring someone back” or just for a kind word, offer a hot drink and support. I know I speak for my colleagues when I feel so fortunate that I have known some outstanding colleagues but even more outstanding patients and their families, they are the real heros!

  9. Having worked in the ED to now being in med school, I can’t tell you how much I missed it until I was gone. The thought of being back is what helps me power through most days. People that haven’t worked in a position like that don’t realize just how terrifying and awesome it actually is. Thanks so much for sharing.

  10. I have been the weeping mother to a six year old in cardiac arrest. We have been in a room just like this now a few times. My daughter will be twelve this summer, so thank you and everyone else who somehow finds peace here.

  11. For an experience that is so difficult to put into words… you’ve explained it perfectly! It is a daily challenge shifting through our own emotions… yet I believe it is that very “in-depth strength”of emergency responders to embrace those emotions yet still choose to reach out and touch the life of another… It is rarely easy, but always worth it! Thank you for sharing so transparently the reality of what we do, see, feel!

  12. I have been ED nurse for last 19 years, and it should be easy and should feel “used to it” right? No. The shifting emotions are truely raw, and keep us grounded. The “lean on me concept” for each team member in that room is something too admirable. Hats off to all my ED family, you are my daily heroes!

  13. I doubt you “watched” 4 people die. I think you worked harder than you’ve ever worked. Tried every possible trick in the book. Left no stone unturned. Withheld nothing that could provide a better outcome. Sometimes I watch my nurses and docs go above and beyond and still lose a patient and sometimes they get someone back and it’s the most gratifying and humbling moment to witness.

  14. I’ve been retired for over 3 years now, but reading that brought back many memories. I hope you don’t mind if I share it, I think everybody should know what we OR people do and you express it very eloquently.

  15. I worked in the ED for 20plus years and I remember learning something new everyday, just when you think you’ve seen it all, something new comes in.

  16. I melted reading this beautiful compilation of emotion and truth. I have to say that as a nurse, I understand many of the things you expressed, but as the completely distraught family member who was sure the world would just crash and burn at any moment from the pain I was feeling, you my friend, are an amazingly comforting Angel even when maybe you can’t see it. I haven’t been able to express my gratitude for you being you on Christmas of all days when my father died. That night I felt the worst pain I think I ever have, and you were there, silent yet present, ready to catch me, comfort me, hold me, whatever I needed. You knew exactly how present to be, and I am forever grateful. Those nights you feel defeated, remember, in any moment, you could be the exact Angel someone needs to survive the worst pain of their life. I’m a phone call and two floors away when the”JOB” gets in the way, or you need anything. Please never ever forget how much you saved me too. Thank you….. Thank you.

  17. After 50 years I am now retired. I still miss the work, the atmosphere, the camaraderie, the wonder of small and large achievements. I have seen our profession grow from Boiler Sterilizers to Plasma Vaporization, and I have seen that which we do on a daily basis described in oh so many wonderful articles, but none has ever touched my soul as this did.

    Melina, thank you.

  18. Beautiful piece of inner self all knowing that it too replicates the emotions of a profession that most times go hidden. These emotions are not just ER or CCU Nightingales but all nurses in critical care areas that have held dying babies in their arms, embraced crying parents and children when they are at their most vulnerable. We are blessed to have been chosen to enter the nursing profession…..and should recognize and be thankful for all it has given each of us over the years. I am honored and blessed to be a nurse and proud to call my peers colleagues.

  19. To all the Dr working in the ER I like to thank you all for what you do you are all very special thank you val

  20. Me too girl…a recent 23 year old with AAA…did not make it…lots of lots of codes, hypothermia protocol, trauma…here too…but somehow it is all worth it and I love it too…hugs and God bless…

  21. This was truly amazing! Totally details my life as a scrub tech in the OR!!! I love my job and can’t imagine doing anything else! Sometimes we forget we are there for the patient but then there is that one time to snap u back and make u remember!!! It’s those times u always remember and cherish!! THANK YOU!!!

  22. I was one of those lives on the table. I was in a traumatic auto accident and was taken to the OR with the ER doc telling my husband not to hold much hope. Nine hours later, they had fixed a ten inch laceration in my diaphragm, removed my ruptured spleen and came out to tell my husband that they fixed what they didn’t think could be fixed and now they would concentrate on putting me back together by repairing the numerous ortho injuries I had suffered. 23 days in ICU, 36 days in inpatient rehab, 18 surgeries and 21 months later, I’m a walking miracle. I’m due to have another surgery on Monday, but they are getting fewer and further between. I was involved in pre-hospital medicine before the accident and I know what it’s like to lose a life too. God bless each one of you who are on “that” side of the table. My family and I are grateful for all you do.

  23. So many days of saving those that probably shouldn’t have been (97 year old with terminal cancer, no DNR) to someone that shouldn’t have been there to begin with (35 year old marathon runner that dropped during his morning run thanks to the widow maker). At my ER we all try to remember they are all “somebody’s somebody” and they were important to someone.

  24. What a beautiful way to explain what we go through as medical professionals. Your words ring true in every OR room I have ever had the privilege of working in.
    I have been a Surgical Tech since 1986 and can not imagine doing anything else.
    Thanks, VicM.

  25. I’m one of the people that has been in the room as the patient. I don’t know how you folks do what you do – I know I don’t have that kind of strength, but I want you to know that I’m very-very grateful that you do!

  26. Thank you for sharing Melina. I am not a nurse but run several job boards for nurses and my wife is an Executive Nurse Recruiter focused on Surgical Services and the ER. Your story is compelling. It should be mandatory reading for staff that interviews OR or ED staff nurses or OR or ED management nurses.
    I will point to your post from the blogs on my websites so more may know of your outstanding contributions to our society.

  27. I am newly retired after nearly 41 years including 5 in ICU. My daughter is a certified trauma ER nurse in Arizona, and my daughter-in-law works telemetry. Have seen many lives saved and lost. I have a bad back but miss it terribly at times. Nurses, keep doing what you do. It will always be worth it.

  28. Thank you so much for this wonderful expression of what life in the OR. I moved to teaching several years ago and I am going to share you words with my students.

  29. Melinda,
    Thank you for posting how we feel everyday and do not have the guts to post! I believe in being a nurse – and live it – there are times when the “time of death” bothers me for weeks especially the little ones- but you said it right – the ones we can save- seem to make it all right- it is my calling- where I feel I do my best – thank you for sharing how I am I am sure so many of us feel when no one else in our lives gets it!

  30. So true, for 20 + years every day, every shift a different story and a whole new ball game. Much love to my ED, EMS friends, previous co-workers and wonderful Docs. Truly some of the most amazing people on the planet!!!

  31. This has to be the best post i have ever read, thanks to all of you working 24/7 to keep us well. You are Awesome People.

  32. What would we do without you? The local ER probably saved my life a half-dozen times in the last decade. I owe everything to their dedication, organization, intelligence and training, as well as a ton of technology and a boatload of medications.
    There is simply no way to thank you all enough.
    Cousin/Uncle Stan

  33. Nicely put…very inspiring and encouraging! Thanks for sharing Melina. Strong work my fellow ED nurses

  34. I was the weeping and grieving mother. My beautiful and vibrant 24 year old who as you say, got up and prepare for another day of her life not knowing it would end in less than 4 hours. Her team, most of whom were personally known to our family, worked so valiantly and mourned with me in the end. Most people cannot imagine and I pray that they never do. I wish I could thank each and every one of you, there are no words to say what that compassion means when you are in the darkest moments of your life. God bless you each and every one.

  35. this story is true on every level of health care. It needs to be known however that there are
    many health care workers that do not come back for the next battle. They sometimes become injured physically and sometimes emotionally and mentally and never are able to perform another day.

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