Thrive by IU Health

April 25, 2022

Nurses give a beat

IU Health Arnett Hospital

Nurses give a beat

The family was overwhelmed.

The nurse handed them a bottle with the last heartbeat of their PawPaw. Written on the heart strip was a poem:

“Goodbye may seem forever,

Farewell is like the end,

But in my heart’s a memory.

And there you will always be.”

The simple act impacted the nurses as well.

Saying goodbye to a patient is the most difficult part of a nurse’s job. During the past two years it has happened too often. As the omicron variant surged, those patients were becoming younger and younger. Many could not communicate with their family and friends due to ventilators, which weighed heavily on the nurses who cared for them.

At the peak, there were 35 deaths in 30 days in the intensive care unit at IU Health Arnett Hospital. It was too much.

“Nurses tend to make a personal connection with the families of the patients—it is what allows you to go home at night,” shares Melissa Sorrell, BSN, RN, clinical operations manager of intensive care unit and telemetry central monitoring unit at IU Health Arnett Hospital. “Being a nurse means that you know you made a difference in the patient’s life, no matter how big or small.”

A travel nurse who had spent the past year working in the ICU at Arnett Hospital and an Arnett ICU nurse had an idea to help the nurses and family members heal—they could capture the last rhythm strip of life and share it with the family. And the heartbeat project was born.

The idea came in the heat of the moment, and they improvised, using equipment they use every day—a collection tube. They borrowed ribbon from the NICU. They made six heartbeat mementos the first day. The first one was labeled “PawPaw’s heartbeat.”

Heartbeat tube

“What an incredible example of focusing on patients and their families and the emotional needs of care,” shares Brandon Carwile, MSN, RN, CNML, regional director of experience design application. “These heartbeats are treasures the family will always hold near and dear, and being able to have that kind of impact on them in a positive way will help the nurses remember why they got into nursing to begin with.”

A little trial and error with available equipment and a search on Amazon, the nurses have found a better holder solution with corks, which they paid for out of their own pockets.

heartbeat vial

“Nurses are a special breed of people,” adds Sorrell. “They get up in the morning and go to work with one simple, yet profound purpose in mind: to care for their patients.”

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