Life-threatening experience changes a nurse's perspective

Anna Condon has been working in the medical field for more than 12 years. She’s always been caring and dedicated to her job, but in December 2018 she lived through a crisis that she credits with making her a better nurse. Anna was working as an RN on the surgical floor at Northern Light EMMC and stopped for a mid-morning snack. But when she tried to swallow a bite of food, she felt a sudden excruciating pain and began vomiting blood. She had battled some issues with her esophagus for a while which had gradually gotten worse. Now she feared there was something terribly wrong.

Her colleagues on the medical floor rushed her down to the emergency department. Based on Anna’s symptoms, the clinical team suspected that she ruptured her esophagus. They did a CT scan to find out for sure. What they saw was a very large, very serious tear in the wall of her esophagus. Her abdomen was filling with the contents of her stomach, poisoning the surrounding tissue. Anna remembers the emergency physician coming into the room, “OK, this is a medical emergency. Call your family. We’re requesting LifeFlight to take you to Boston.”

The official diagnosis was Boerhaave Syndrome, a rare life-threatening condition that requires fast diagnosis and intervention in order to survive. If treatment is delayed, serious complications like septic shock and multiple organ failure can set in. Luckily Anna was seen within minutes of her severe symptoms and a CT scan was done quickly.  Because the syndrome is so rare, the best place for Anna to receive treatment was in Boston where surgeons had the most experience.

Recognizing the urgency of Anna’s situation, the flight crew lost no time getting her ready for transport and loading her into the helicopter waiting on the roof. The flight crew wheeled Anna into Brigham and Women’s Hospital just 4 hours and 20 minutes after she was first seen in EMMC’s emergency department. Her surgeon spent nearly 7 hours rebuilding her esophagus using muscle tissue from between her ribs. She remained in the intensive care unit for about a week before she was discharged and sent home for several more weeks of recovery. She remembers the first two weeks were the worst. Everything hurt. But her strong support network helped her through it. Her friends and family, including husband Bill and daughters Payton and Jade, took turns caring for her at home, never leaving her side.

Anna was back at work less than 3 months later and quickly recognized that she brought with her a new perspective. She had lived through major trauma. She experienced first-hand the fear of not knowing; the worry of a serious diagnosis; the physical pain of surgery and the recovery process. She brought all of that empathy with her when she returned to taking care of patients. “An experience like that puts you on the other side,” explains Anna. “I have a deeper understanding of what my patients are going through because I’ve been there. It helps me build a whole new level of trust with my patients.”

CommSpec Jonathan Roebuck
Pilot Dustin Smiley
Medic John Malcolm
Nurse Kathy Beller