The patient was like many others who came to Michele Gatzert’s ICU – elderly, heavily sedated and on a ventilator. He was seldom conscious and when he was, he couldn’t speak.
What set him apart? This particular patient led Gatzert to find a way for her staff to better connect with their patients and patient families. That and his superhero status.
Gatzert is the nurse manager of 8900 ICU, a 10-bed intensive care unit at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, the 1,200-bed adult teaching hospital for Washington University School of Medicine. Many of the patients in Gatzert’s unit come from adjoining oncology floors, serving the hospital’s Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center. Others are recovering from surgery, trauma or serious infections.
Gatzert and her staff pride themselves on providing highly skilled, compassionate care to these critically ill patients. But when a patient is critically ill or unresponsive, it can be hard to engage with the patient and their family on an individual level. One patient and his son showed Gatzert and her team the value of forging that individualized bond.
The “superhero” was a 75-year-old patient from Joplin, MO, who had pulled several of his neighbors from their wrecked homes after the catastrophic May 11, 2011, tornado leveled part of the town. He subsequently developed a severe respiratory infection and pneumonia possibly caused by inhaling toxins during the rescue effort, and had been transferred across the state to Barnes-Jewish for specialized care.