Nursing Matters

Above & Beyond – Darlene Smith

March 14, 2023

Submitted by Lauren Byrne, RN, Dr. G. B. Cross Memorial Hospital

Darlene Smith, RN

Darlene Smith has been our unofficial team lead far longer than she has been our official one.

Immediately upon her arrival in our department, her experience and knowledge made us a better team and hospital.

Darlene has never shied away from any situation and has always been a strong advocate for registered nurses. Her enduring commitment to our profession and colleagues is a true testament of her leadership.

One situation that really epitomizes Darlene happened a few years back when our tiny ER department was dealing with a motor vehicle accident.  Several trauma patients came to the Department, which was already very busy.

While assessing these patients, our chief burst through the door and announced a helicopter had gone down close to Thorburn Lake. Injuries were extensive and we would be getting these patients too.

Rapidly we began looking for more staff, and I called Darlene.

She told me it was her husband’s birthday. The whole family was there. Supper was in the oven. She had a cake. She couldn’t come. But she ran through the trauma nursing course with me in the fastest way possible “Just remember, ABCDE, you guys will be fine. You know this. I have complete faith in all of you. Call me if you need me.”

The team’s disappointment was obvious, but we carried on.

Moments later, my phone rang. It was Darlene, obviously in a car. “I told Neville what time to take supper out. He understands. Tell everyone Mama’s coming!”

Our casualty officer shed tears of relief. I am not making it up.

Months later, the pandemic hit.

Darlene, having worked through SARS, recognized immediately we needed better preparation. She went directly to our manager and started developing a plan. This plan led to a phone call for me.

“Lauren. Our manager is going to call you. I just need you to say yes. Ok? I can’t tell you anything else. But just say yes.”

When management called, it was to appoint me in charge for the pandemic on the opposite side of the schedule as Darlene. She felt I possessed the skills and knowledge to partner with her on this enormous project. To say being chosen for this was an honour is an understatement.

We worked together to ready our department for the inevitable. We attended virtual meetings daily with up to 42 people including the chief of the department, clinical chief of the hospital, director of emergency, and multiple levels of management.

We trained everyone on protected intubation. Darlene made slide shows, information booklets, and algorithms. We made a new resus room and organized it so that everything was at our fingertips to ensure the most efficient care possible.

I nominated Darlene for an RNU Ovation Award in 2020 that I ended up winning, which is comical looking back because I wouldn’t have been in the position to get nominated without her belief in me during this unprecedented time.

Fast forward to last fall; once again Darlene showed us what it means to be a leader and Registered Nurse.

When the explosion happened at Come By Chance, I was the first nurse from outside the hospital to arrive, and got to watch Darlene in action from the beginning. Methodically, as we showed up, she gathered us in small groups and repeated the same directions: “This could get bad. But you know what to do. Airway. Large bore IVs. Fluid resuscitation. Clean, warm, and dry. If they’ve lost consciousness, it’s not the burn. Look for blast injuries, but don’t get distracted from what’s most important. You all know what you’re doing. Just focus.”

As each patient rolled in, Darlene assigned us our jobs. And she was right, it was bad. For hours, we protected airways. We fluid resuscitated. We kept patients clean, warm, and dry, while Darlene weaved in and out, repeating her mantra, reminding us of our capabilities when anxiety crept in.

She stayed until the last patient was flown out. She hugged us, debriefed us, called us the next day. She made sure we all knew what a great job we did.

My coworkers and I feel it needs to be made abundantly clear we have and are a great team of RNs; With Darlene as our leader, we are even greater. It was a privilege to work through the Code Orange under her expert, calm, and steadfast leadership. One coworker said later, “I’d follow you anywhere Darlene!” And we would.

I heard a story once about people praying for rain in a drought. They all brought various religious symbols to help them pray, but one girl who had complete faith brought an umbrella.

Nursing, especially rural emergency nursing, has felt like a bit of a drought lately. We’ve had high numbers walking away from permanent positions to go casual, including myself. We are overwhelmed and overworked and defeated. A drought seems like a good comparison.

Darlene faithfully shows up in our darkest moments with her umbrella.

I cannot think of another human being, especially in our current health care crisis, more deserving of recognition than Darlene.

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