Usually when I talk about saving lives at work, I'm making some sort of joke about the people who come in for STDs and sore throats. I personally think the whole image of nurses saving tons of lives a day is a little silly. The truth is most of the people we see aren't that critical, and I don't feel that I do anything particularly special for the ones that are- I follow orders and make sure they aren't circling the drain. I think the instances in which we do save lives are when we have to look a little further into something and see something others might not.
I finally had one of those moments on Saturday. I was in triage and it was insane. I had a long line of people waiting to get triaged and this young guy checks in for rapid heart rate. We get this complaint a lot in young people and about 99.9% of the time it's total bullshit- rapid heart rates of 83. I'm thinking the same thing with this guy automatically- I put the oximeter on his finger and the heart rate pops up as 60. Something just told me to check a radial pulse- when it did it, it felt... wrong. So I get my stethescope and listen to him. It sounds weird. I hook him up to the EKG machine- holy crap. He's in atrial fibrillation with a heart rate of 180. We got him back to a trauma room and he never converted to a normal rhythm, but they at least got his heart rate down a little bit and got him admitted. I don't think I saved his life necessarily, but I'm glad I didn't settle for the vitals that popped up and send him back to the waiting room!