On the Other Side of the Rails
Still a Nurse: An Unexpected Journey of Hope Part III
Deb Jeffries MSN-Ed, CEN, CPEN, TCRN, FAEN
Photo Credit: ©istock.com/CreativeFire (…6336)
After 3 weeks in the ICU battling cancer, I was discharged to die at home. The tech who wheeled me out to my vehicle said, “I am so glad to see you going home, not often do we get to discharge terminal patients.” Although I was fully aware of how sick I was, it was shocking nonetheless to hear the word “terminal.” As I got into the car, I thought to myself, “I am going home to die. I am not going to survive this cancer.”
My journey from that point was long, slow, and painful. Initially, I could only ambulate 2 or 3 steps and needed help to change position from sitting to standing. I continued my radiation therapy that began in the hospital and received “mega dose” chemotherapy every 3 weeks. Of course, I lost all my hair and continued to lose weight. I experienced a radiation burn on my back the approximate size of my lung. I was on multiple medications and had to have nebulizer treatments every 4 hours. I developed hand and foot syndrome, a complication of chemotherapy, in which the agents affect the tissues of the hands and feet causing severe pain. Approximately 4 weeks after discharge I began to cough up copious amounts of a substance that I cannot describe. Think soup bowls full. When I next saw my radiation oncologist he asked me, “Do you understand what this is?” I nodded my head for I knew what the answer was – I was literally coughing up the tumor. I made trips to see my children and grandchildren not expecting I would ever see them again. I was despondent and at times completely hopeless. I would sometimes become angry when I was at the cancer center with all the encouraging signs such as “keep the faith” and “you got this.” No, I didn’t, I was dying. I often found myself saying to family members that “I used to be a productive member of society” and that “I used to be a nurse.”
And then something changed. In tiny increments, I began to feel stronger even while battling a case of pneumonia a few months after discharge. For the first 2 years, I had CT scans of my chest, abdomen, and pelvis every three months. In January 2017, I was told for the first time my scans now showed no evidence of (active) disease. No evidence of disease has replaced “remission” in oncological terminology. My oncologist has shared that I will never be considered “cured.” However, I am coming up on my 5-year mark of NO EVIDENCE OF DISEASE! As of today, I am a survivor.
As I journeyed through this battle fighting for my life, something else occurred. I found myself in situations in which family members needed information about medications or interventions in an emergency and would come to me for information. Somewhere midway through this experience, I powerfully realized that, of course, I was still a nurse. Not only that, I was still an emergency nurse. I found myself educating family members about medications, signs of deterioration when ill, and when to seek emergency care. Being a nurse is an intrinsic part of who I am and always will be.
I share my story because of the importance of remembering “Nursing 101” and that our patients are more than a diagnosis – they are human beings who have a whole history and life story (like being an emergency nurse). I also found that despite circumstances, there can still be hope. For me, it was my faith and trust in God regardless of whether I lived or died. I was given the greatest gift – the gift of time. How often have we heard it said that every day is a gift (and we even say it ourselves) and then turn around and take it for granted? I refuse to waste the time granted to me! I have returned to work and am a fully functioning “productive member of society.” I urge you to think about the gift of a day and what brings you hope.
Deb Jeffries MSN-Ed., CEN, CPEN, TCRN, FAEN
Deb has been an emergency nurse for 38 years and was recently inducted as a Fellow in the Academy of Emergency Nursing (class of 2021) for her enduring and substantial contributions to emergency nursing. She is certified in emergency nursing (CEN), pediatric emergency nursing (CPEN), and trauma emergency nursing (TCRN). Additionally, she is an ACLS, PALS, and BLS instructor.
Improving the knowledge and skills of nurses caring for pediatric patients is an area she has been passionate about for many years. She has been an ENPC instructor for approximately 9 years and a course director for approximately 5 years. Deb recently co-authored the book Rapid Access Guide for Pediatric Emergencies: Providing Expert Nursing Care as a resource for nurses to use at the bedside.1 Deb has been committed to the standardization of the care provided to children for emergency nurses especially in general population emergency departments. She has also done podium presentations, podcasts, and webinars on the care of children experiencing an emergency.
Deb has been involved in trauma education for trauma and emergency nurses for decades. She has been a TNCC instructor for approximately 9 years and a course director for approximately 6 years. She was selected for a Poster Presentation for the 2021 Trauma Center Association of America (TCAA) national conference for the project spearheaded at a Level 1 (ACS) trauma center: ATCN and TNCC: Are They Enough? Innovation, Interaction, and Intentionality in Delivering Trauma Orientation Education for Nursing Staff.
In addition to these accomplishments, Deb has made a significant impact on the advancement of emergency nursing. She dedicated much of her career to clinical education in the emergency setting and has contributed globally to the standardization, process throughput, and implementation of best-practices for emergency department triage. She is a passionate advocate for standardization of the triage process and education and has provided triage education nationally and internationally.
1. Jeffries D, Visser L. Rapid Access Guide for Pediatric Emergencies. Springer Publishing; 2021.
How to contribute
We encourage submissions from any reader who has been touched by the healthcare system. Some contributors may be involved directly in patient care and might want to share the impact a patient, family, or colleague had on them. Others may want to write about life “on the other side of the rails” …those moments when the caregiver becomes the patient…or maybe sees healthcare from the vantage point of a family member. Inquiries can be sent to BlogofJEN@gmail.com