Faith helps emergency nurses … and their patients

Helicopter rescue flights, accident scenes, busy emergency rooms. Emergency medical personnel who face challenging, rewarding but sometimes tragic situations in these settings often lean on their faith for strength – and rely on that faith to help them serve their patients.

Faith is essential for Ashley Lewis, a member of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Omaha, nurse for eight years and a helicopter flight nurse for 10 months with Fremont Health Medical Center in Fremont.

"It’s hard to separate (faith) from who you are," said Lewis, who responds to accident scenes and helps transfer patients to Omaha hospitals. "My faith is a part of me and feeds into everything I do. It gives a sense of peace, even in challenging situations."

Most difficult can be transporting critically ill or injured people, especially children, she said. "It’s hard to think of a child being in that situation and how it’s going to affect their family."



Mary Jane Nielsen is a member of St. Margaret Mary Parish and nurse for nine years, most of it in the emergency room at Nebraska Medical Center, both in Omaha. She said the job can be spiritually taxing.

"When I see the horrible things that happen to people, I have to rely on my faith, knowing in my heart that if a patient doesn’t make it, they’ll be in a better place."

Sudden infant death syndrome is one example of a tragic, difficult situation, Nielsen said.

"Seeing such an innocent human life taken for some reason, and trying to comfort this brand new mom – you try to offer as much support as you can."

Emergency care also opens a door to sharing faith with others, the women said.

Lewis recalled a homeless patient who arrived in the emergency room twice the same day with seizures. After being stabilized and released the first time, he returned and she talked with him about his condition.

"He said he has these seizures when he doesn’t have a chance to pray the rosary, and that he had lost his rosary," she said. "So I said, ‘I don’t have a complete rosary, but I have a rosary ring.’" So she removed it from her key ring and gave it to him.

"That moment of complete gratitude – that I could do this simple thing for him – meant so much. To be able to share your faith with someone that you’d never met before was so meaningful."



Charity also is important, particularly working in an inner city emergency room, where patients include the homeless and people with no insurance, Nielsen said. "You have to treat everybody the same, giving the individual care and respect that every human being deserves."

Both women said another satisfying aspect of their work is seeing or hearing how patients have done after treatment and realizing the positive impact they’ve had on people’s lives.

Nielsen recalled one such uplifting moment.

"I was having a really awful day, it was busy, there were really sick people, and I was treating a woman, when her husband came into the room," she said. His arm was in a sling and he had crutches, and he looked familiar to her.

"After he left the room, the woman explained that he had been in a horrible accident and that we had saved him," Nielsen said.

"I realized I had treated him, and I thought, ‘I can’t believe this man lived,’ and it gave me this overwhelming feeling of hope and peace. I felt that was God saying, ‘Keep going, even though there are hard days. You do this for a reason.’"



Prayer can make their work a little easier, both women said.

Lewis said she often prays that she and her team can do their best to help patients as they begin their flights. She also prays each night to unwind and process what happened during her work day.

Nielsen prays in particularly difficult situations.

"I take a breath and ask God to please help me," she said. "It calms me and helps me focus to do the job at hand and perform at my best."

Working closely with chaplains and volunteers from the hospital’s Spiritual Care Department, Nielsen and other staff also pray with patients or family members if asked to do so.

"When I’m with people at the scariest moment of their lives, they look to me for support, so praying with them and their families helps not only them, but it also helps me.

"It gives me a good sense that this is my calling – what God put me in the world to do," Nielsen said, "that I can make a difference in someone’s life."


First Responders Package: 
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Faith helps emergency nurses … and their patients

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