Emily Larsen's mangled leg scared some would-be helpers away. Thankfully, a WMC nurse drove by
By Kristy Bleizeffer Jul 15, 2014
Stopping to help a woman lying in the street is nothing for a nurse who cares for the very sick and the severely injured every time she goes to work. But to Emily Larsen, a second grade teacher at Pineview Elementary School, a nurse who stopped made all the difference in the world.
At about 5:30 p.m. on July 3, Larsen’s friend picked her up on his brand new motorcycle. They were just a few blocks from Larsen’s house when a drunken driver clipped her knee with the car’s bumper. She flew off the motorcycle and into the street. When she tried to pull her leg up, she noticed it was completely splayed open, showing her leg bone.
“It was like a perfect slice, crazy looking. It was perfect from side to side all the way around,” said Larsen, 24.
Lorraine Thompson, an ICU nurse at Wyoming Medical Center, was driving along Yellowstone Highway on her way to work. Traffic had stopped and she noticed a woman lying on the pavement. Had she been trying to cross the street?
Thompson, who spent several years as an ER nurse, rushed to her side. She found a blanket to put under her head. Panic and shock can set in quickly after gruesome injuries, so Thompson started talking the woman through it. Keep breathing. The paramedics will come and they’re going to roll you onto a stretcher. They’ll put IVs in both arms and some pillows under your knee. At the hospital, they will take you to surgery, and you’ll be OK.
“She was comforting, and she had that motherly touch, I guess. She was rubbing me, telling me it would alright,” Larsen said. “She was surprised I wasn’t screaming. It was just comforting to have her there.”
Other people stopped, too, but couldn’t handle the look of Larsen’s mangled leg. She’d shattered her patella and separated her tibia. The knee tendons and ligaments tore, so there was little holding the bottom of the leg to the top. Thompson helped apply pressure and hold the parts together.
“She was an excellent patient, breathing, focused,” Thompson said. “She’s a very strong woman.”
The ambulance came quickly. My mom is going to kill me, Larsen kept saying. It’s too late for that, Thompson replied.
Larsen underwent two surgeries in two days. Doctors attached an external fixator to her leg, one end screwed into her thigh bone, the other screwed to her shin bone, to keep it from separating at the knee. She’ll wear it through the end of August, and she and her principal will have to talk about returning to work – something Larsen is determined to do, even though it will mean teaching from a wheelchair.
When she settled into her room at Wyoming Medical Center, Larsen asked about the nurse who’d given her a sense of control while waiting for the ambulance. Her name was Lorraine, she thought, maybe she worked in ICU. Larsen’s nurse, Kristy Kellch, found Thompson who visited Larsen on her next shift.
Nurse and patient shared their perspectives from scene, and Larsen thanked Thompson for staying with her. Larsen’s friend had planned to take her dancing that night, she told the nurse, and though she didn’t know it at the time, had planned to ask her out. The women laughed: Who asks if you’ll be their girlfriend anymore? He came to her hospital room the next day and asked her there, leaning on his own set of crutches. Larsen said yes.
Larsen faces several more surgeries, but she considers herself lucky. All her family expected she’d lose her leg, judging by the photos Larsen insisted nurses take.
“Everyone has been amazed that they could save my leg and what they did. My nurses (Kristy Kellch and Annita Uwamahoro) have been awesome as well; Leah (Duke), the CNA, they all come in and check on me even when I don’t use my call button,” Larsen said.
As for Thompson, she thinks nothing of stopping to help a woman lying on the street. Nurses stop to help as a matter of course. But, hearing the woman say thank you, knowing that she remembered hours later, in the middle of the painful business of recovery, made all the difference to the nurse.
“It’s so easy in nursing to get in the rhythm and not know if you’re making a difference,” Thompson said. “It was what I really needed: Here was a patient who was seeking me out and she was so genuine about it. I thought, ‘Oh, wow. I did make a difference for her.’”