The Moment that Took My Breath Away: A Nurse’s Perspective on Being an Inpatient

Posted on Thu, Jul 16, 2015
The Moment that Took My Breath Away: A Nurse’s Perspective on Being an Inpatient

Sabrina Griffin, BSN, Divisional Director of Clinical Services in EmCare’s South Division, reflects on her recent experience as a cancer patient.
By Sabrina Griffin, BSN
“Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the number of moments that take our breath away.”
This last year has been quite a journey for me and my circle of friends and family. I have heard the words you never want to be mentioned with your name attached – cancer. This journey, like most of life’s challenging times, has its ups and downs
After the diagnosis, we endured the rugged uphill climb through surgery, chemotherapy and neutropenia. With every mountain, thankfully, we found peaceful valleys in between.
The next mountain to climb was reconstruction. I decided to wait several months before having this surgery to briefly reclaim a sense of normalcy, albeit temporary. However, as I looked in the mirror each day I was reminded of my loss.
My mother and daughter were apprehensive about the surgery, but I reassured them that this was the final mountain, and a small one at that; this mountain would not be nearly as difficult as the previous climbs.
The seven-hour surgery went well. My family was exhausted from the long day and felt relieved it was over. However, during the night my blood pressure dropped and my urine output was minimal, so the clinical staff increased my fluids to increase my blood pressure.
The next morning I started having difficulty breathing. The doctors decided to perform a scan to make sure I didn’t have a pulmonary embolus. When we got to nuclear medicine, I explained to them that I couldn’t lay flat because of the surgery I had the day before. In fact, I wouldn’t be able to stand upright for 14 days. My family also told them I couldn’t be laid flat and that they should contact my surgeon to discuss the best way to get the images that they needed. 
Despite our protests, they physically moved me to the scanner table, laying me flat … and I quit breathing.


  • The patient experience = Not so good
  • Patient interaction = Not so good
  • Listening to the patient = Not so good


This moment not only took my breath away, it took my family's and friends’ breaths away as well. Can you imagine hearing a code called on your spouse, mother, daughter, sister? The moments and hours that followed were a nightmare for everyone and continue to haunt us.
In healthcare today there is an increased focus on the patient. Organizations are scored and reimbursed based on the patient experience. Organizations are hiring Chief Patient Experience Officers, training physicians how to communication, and using scribes to improve patient-clinician communication.
Patient Communication 101
As a nurse, I like to collect old nursing books and found these questions in Professional Problems of Nurses from 1936:


  • What is the right thing to do?
  • What will it take to listen to the patient?
  • What does it take to truly care about the patient experience? 

There are two essentials that haven’t changed since the beginning of care:


  1. Patient Communication: Not just what you tell the patient, but also what the patient and family story is.
  2. Patient Assessment: Look at the complete picture: presentation, diagnostics, vital signs, emotional wellbeing, etc. 


Without these elements as essentials in healthcare, the patient experience, and maybe even the patient, is doomed.
I travel across the nation to help hospitals improve the patient experience. I never expected to have an “experience” of my own. Nothing gives you a new perspective on the patient experience than being one. I recently heard the mantra “nothing about the patient without the patient” at a conference, and I’m introducing that concept at all of the facilities that I visit.
Questions for Providers to Improve the Patient Experience
So, what can we do to improve each patient’s experience in our facilities? I think the beginning is always a great place to start. Ask yourself the following questions:


  • Why are we here? Is the patient the true reason we are here? To be a true patient-centric organization, the “Why” should link to the patient and the community.
  • Who is our customer? Are our systems set up to make our jobs easier or to meet the customers’ need?
  • What services do we offer? How do we add value to the patient experience and eliminate waste? Are these the right services for this community?
  • How are our customers involved in developing our care model?
  • What do we give back to the patient? 


Once you establish the “Why,” you can then focus on the “How.” How do you deliver your care to the patient? How is your care validated and continuously improved?
In closing, I am a survivor and I’m sharing the insight that I’ve received through this journey in the hope that just one patient’s experience will be improved. For me personally, we are edging down to the valley after a treacherous climb, and pray our journey will level out soon.
Sabrina Griffin, BSN
Sabrina Griffin, BSN, is the Divisional Director of Clinical Services in EmCare’s South Division.

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