From the first week of my nursing training, during about the second or third lecture it was impressed upon me and my fellow students that nurses do not run.
We were always told that there was no emergency where the couple of seconds saved by running to the patient or to fetch emergency equipment would actually make a difference and it was far more likely that we would cause panic among the other patients and visitors to the ward who saw us running.
Clearly none of my tutors had ever worked on NICU.
Almost as soon as the emergency buzzer goes off on the unit, at least six different nurses and doctors can be seen (and heard) running full tilt along the corridor to reach the room where the buzzer is sounding. No matter how quickly a situation has arisen or how much you feel that events have snapped out of control, once you pull that bright orange cord you know that within seconds you will be surrounded by the best and most experienced members of staff working that day.
Not once since I’ve been qualified have I been told not to run.
Running is also not only confined to the unit and NICU staff can regularly be seen running along the route between NICU and delivery suite on the floor below us after having been called to respond to emergencies situations that have occurred shortly before or after the baby being delivered.
Sometimes we have a bit of time to prepare as delivery suite calls us to let us know that a woman who looks to have gone into premature labour has been admitted but more often than not we have have no warning of any potential emergencies until the emergency bleep goes off.
In my previous job delivery suite was much further away from the NICU than and involved us running between buildings and up and down several flights of stairs. The red phone would ring and before the call had even been answered the nurse who was assigned to take on any emergency deliveries would have grabbed the green bag of emergency equipment and been halfway out of the door, waiting just long enough to hear which room or theatre on delivery suite she was heading for.
On several occasions I was the nurse grabbing the green bag, slinging it over my shoulder and briefly looking behind me to make sure one of the doctors was following before I was off and running as fast as I (safely) could. I would take the stairs two at a time, shouting ‘Excuse me’ so that I didn’t barrel into anyone walking ahead of me and arriving on delivery suite a bit out of breath but so pumped up on adrenaline that I was ready for whatever emergency was waiting for me.
Once we’d assessed the baby I would ask the doctor whether they wanted to admit them on the unit and then phone the unit to let them know whether we would be bringing the baby back with us. If we were admitting the baby then I’d let them know that I needed someone to bring the transport incubator down to delivery suite, either as soon as they were able or as a matter of urgency.
Although we had the green bag full of emergency kit, all the equipment on delivery suite and the transport incubator (when it arrived) most of the time we needed to get the baby back to the unit as soon as possible if we were going to give them the best chance of survival.
We never ran with the transport incubator; it was far too heavy and cost far too much to risk ramming it into doors in our hurry but this was still less important was the welfare of the tiny patient on board. Just hitting a slight bump in the floor was enough to send their heart rate and oxygen saturation plummeting and no one wanted to attempted to resuscitate a two pound baby in a random corridor.
But just because we weren’t running didn’t mean that we weren’t in a hurry, acutely aware that the quicker we got back to NICU meant the more likely it was that we’d be able to save them.
And being in a hurry meant commandeering the lifts.
One of the major flaws of the hospital was that at any one time approximately half of the lifts were out of service and so waiting for one to arrive could take up to ten minutes. So when we needed to get the transport incubator back to NICU we would hail all the lifts outside delivery suite and politely ask everyone in the first lift that arrived to vacate it.
People were often surprisingly resistant.
The number of occasions when we told people that we really needed to use the lift and if they could please all step out so that we could fit the incubator in, only for someone to pipe up with ‘But we’ll all fit’ and the rest of the passengers to join in.
If there’d been time I would have explained that, yes we probably could all squeeze in. However, in the event that the baby stopped breathing (or something similarly disastrous) I would need to be able to open the side of the transport incubator to resuscitate the baby without having to squeeze round people. I would need plenty of space, easy access to the baby and my bag of emergency equipment and to not be surrounded by onlookers expressing varying degrees of interest and panic.
Equally, the baby in the incubator was critically ill, separated from their parents and the last thing that either they or I needed was an audience. Patients and visitors that we met on the way back to NICU had a horrible habit of wanting to look under the incubator cover or to ask questions about the baby and their condition.
Lastly, if by some catastrophe the baby died before we got them back to the unit, no one apart from the baby’s family or NICU staff had any right to witness it.
But I didn’t have time to explain these things or to ask how they’d feel if it was their baby in that transport incubator and people were being obstructive because they didn’t want to wait for the next lift.
Also, neither I nor any of the other NICU staff took particularly well to the insinuation that we evicted people from lifts because we found it entertaining, so rather than launching into a time consuming explanation we simply repeated our request for the lift to be vacated, just in a slightly less friendly manner and without saying please.
It may be difficult for other patients and visitors to understand without knowing how critically ill the baby is, but we don’t commandeer lifts because we’ve got some kind of superiority complex and we’re not in a hurry just because we want to get back for our breaks.
And we never run unless it’s a matter of life and death.