A Calming Presence In A Storm

Frank Anderson likes to call it his “young mid-life crisis.” He was 27, working at an engineering lab when he took a break for lunch and happened upon an accident. A young woman was thrown from her car into a ditch. People were stopping and looking, frantically trying to figure out how to help.

Anderson moved into action. He began administering CPR – a training he learned for his factory position. He didn’t know it at the time but he later learned the young woman might not have survived if he hadn’t taken the steps to revive her. As he watched emergency personnel take over, Anderson remembered why he wanted to be a firefighter in his youth.

With an engineering degree under his belt, Anderson made a decision to go back to school. First he got a degree in paramedic science and then he entered nursing school. He started his medical career with LifeLine. In 2012 he came to University Hospital where he works as a dayshift rapid response RN.

“Working in the hospital is a lot different than the EMS side. When I worked as a paramedic, I’d take them to the hospital, drop them off and not see them again. Here, I get to monitor their progress,” said Anderson, 45, who has lived on Indianapolis’ south side since childhood.

When he gets the page, Anderson knows there is a patient in distress. He grabs his backpack – filled with everything from basic supplies like bandages, to life-saving equipment like oxygen-delivery devices – and away he goes. He’s also on call to help nurses with specific tasks such as drawing labs.

“I’m an extra set of eyes and hands for nurses who are still learning,” said Anderson.

“Frank has a keen sense of who needs help no matter what the situation is,” said Dr. Sikandar Kahn who works in ICU. “No matter how bad the situation around him, he puts the patient first and streamlines care. And he’s extremely skilled at invasive procedure lines.” Kahn added that Anderson recently stayed in ICU after he had helped stabilize a patient because the unit was short-staffed.

Every day, every minute is different for Anderson. One day he received three calls before noon – ranging from an outpatient who fell, to another with hematemesis. He averages about six calls a day and an additional four on the patient watch list – moving throughout University Hospital like a mobile emergency room or a floating intensive care unit. 

From his years of experience working as one of the first responders to his time as an ICU nurse, Anderson has learned to practice patience with his patients.

“When I used to teach new paramedics I’d tell them they can waste more time hurrying and messing up than taking time and breathing,” said Anderson, who often enters a room and tells the responders to take a breath. “Sometimes that’s what they need in an emergency,” said Anderson. “I tell people that I do what I call a ‘doorway observation.’ While a nurse is talking to me, I am watching the patient to see how the patient is truly doing. If they are short of breath, I see how they are breathing, watching the muscles they use to breathe and see if they are talking. I get that from being a paramedic – taking in the scene.”

People who know him well describe Anderson as “nice” and “passionate” but they also know he is calm and levelheaded- traits that Anderson says have come with experience.

“I’m still very detailed and not so compulsive – I’m very meticulous. That’s why I fit with ICU nurses. We are detail oriented,” said Anderson.

At the same age that he helped save the accident victim during his lunch hour, Anderson, a single dad with two young sons, met his wife, Vicki. Their boys played baseball together and the two started hanging out at the ballpark. At the end of that summer, when Anderson began looking for daycare, his path again crossed with Vicki – the daycare director.

“I would say what makes him a good nurse, husband and father is that he is very selfless, he always puts the needs of others ahead of his own. He works hard at whatever he does be it at home or at work,” said Vicki Anderson.

“He has on occasion received a kind note from a patient or a patient’s family sharing their appreciation and I think that is something he appreciates a great deal. They can thank him without making a big to do which is the way he prefers to be appreciated,” she added.

Anderson doesn’t really know how he decided to become a nurse but when he thinks about his career path, he says there are a number of moments over the years that have caused him to pause and think about his role as a caregiver. 

One was six years ago. Anderson was on one or the early emergency crews to respond to the Indiana State Fair stage collapse during the Sugarland concert on August 13, 2011. The tragic accident caused when high winds swept the stage into the crowd, resulted in seven deaths and nearly 60 injuries.

“It was unreal. Seeing all those patients we took care of that night. To think they were there for a concert and ended the night with a disaster. It was overwhelming for the hospital and for all of the medical care community, said Anderson. “It’s definitely a night I will always remember and yet try to forget.”

Few moments compare, but Anderson has always seen himself as a caregiver for others. Growing up an only child he cared for his ailing grandparents and his father. He continues to care for his mother today.

“When you have family members with debilitating diseases, that’s just what you do. You care for them,” said Anderson. “Right out of high school, I wanted to be a fireman, but when I got turned down, I decided I’d go into engineering. I love to take things apart and put them back together.” He still enjoys tearing things apart and putting them back together but it’s mainly when he’s working on one of his kids’ cars.

But when he became a paramedic; Anderson knew his calling was in the medical field.

“It just felt right to be there, helping out. I think deep down something was always dragging me back to do the right thing,” said Anderson. What’s the biggest lesson he’s learned over the years?

“You can’t learn the nurturing part. It just comes from within.”

-- By T.J. Banes, Associate Senior Journalist at IU Health.
   Reach Banes via email at 
T.J. Banes or on Twitter @tjbanes.


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