The Pursuit of Healthiness: ED Nurses Unafraid to Ask Questions When it Comes to Saving Lives


It was going into the 11thhour of his stay, and the patient in the Northwest Hospital emergency department (ED) was still a mystery. Too sick to even sit up, he underwent diagnostic test after diagnostic test, all of which revealed nothing. But for nurses like Terri Tanner, talking to a patient is just as important as diagnostic testing. 
“He did not speak English, so I used our video interpreter service to just keep asking him questions,” Tanner recalls.” I knew I couldn’t rush this.

Despite the language barrier, Tanner learned a lot from the patient, information about his family, his home life and how he worked two jobs. Then, at last, her questions uncovered an important piece of information: a colleague at his restaurant job had also been sick. That’s when an idea popped into Tanner’s head.

“I reached out to a physician and asked if he would order a carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning test,” she explains. “CO poisoning is fortunately rare; I’ve only seen a couple cases in my career. But after talking to the patient, it feltlike the right call.”
It was. The test revealed dangerous levels of carbon monoxide in the patient’s bloodstream, and oxygen therapy was immediately initiated. When Tanner’s colleague, Rachel Venable, heard about the patient during her rounds as that night’s hospital operations coordinator, she stepped in to help.

Venable called the fire department and asked them to perform a safety check at the patient’s job site. Sure enough, what they found was a carbon monoxide leak that had reached toxic levels. The department’s lieutenant called Venable back to thank her for making what he called a “good catch” and potentially saving many more lives. 

“This is really Terri’s good catch,” Venable says. “But successful emergency medicine is always a collaborative effort between providers, nurses, techs and first responders. In our ED, we trust each other and listen to each other, and we deliver better care because of it.

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Photo: Emergency Department Nurse Rachel Venable