Being a Flight Nurse requires autonomy. In the back of an aircraft, critical thinking skills, quick decision making, and compassion are the essentials of the job.
But what happens when the roles reverse, and the Flight Nurse becomes the patient?
If you ask Victoria Kretche-Kitchel, a Flight Nurse for Eagle Air Med in Alamosa, Colorado, she’ll tell you that it is a bizarre feeling.
“This experience gave me a very different perspective of my job,” said Victoria. “It is tough to be the patient – really tough! I was overcome with worry at first; I had so many things that I needed to be doing, and being injured wasn’t one of them.”
Victoria’s journey from nurse to patient started at the race track. She and her husband were working as volunteers at the Shaddy Burro with the Rocky Mountain Enduro Circuit, a long-distance dirt bike race for experienced riders.
The day before the race was underway, Victoria was heading from one part of the course to another when things took a turn.
This experience gave me a very different perspective of my job.”
“I was going a little too fast and I missed a curve and ended up going off-road,” said Victoria. “I was doing fine, until I found a really deep culvert and instead of nailing it, I crashed my bike on the far side.”
When Victoria hit the culvert, she was thrown over the handlebars and landed hard on her back.
“I landed with a thud that knocked the wind out of me,” said Victoria.
After taking a few minutes to rest and catch her breath, she climbed back on her bike and rode 15 miles back to her campsite. When she got there, she began to feel very stiff and sore.
“I took some pain relievers and after an hour or so, decided I was going to jump in my truck and head back out to finish my tasks,” said Victoria. “But as I began to leave the campsite, I felt the most excruciating pain that I’ve ever had in my entire life. I’ve NEVER dialed 911 for myself, but this day, I had to.”
Doubled-over on the side of the road, vomiting from the pain, Victoria waited for paramedics to arrive. And when they did, they immediately took her to Rio Grande Hospital in Del Norte for further examination.
There, clinicians found that she had torn her right adrenal gland, had a hematoma that was bleeding into her abdomen, had bruising on one of her kidneys as well as along her ribs and pelvis, and she had broken her second lumbar spine.
Being the rough and tumble personality she is, Victoria was shocked that her injuries were as severe as they were and that doctors were now recommending she be flown to the closest Level 1 trauma center for surgery.
“I’m a tough girl,” said Victoria. “I played football, worked as a firefighter, and still ride dirt bikes and horses, so I’m used to being sore. I was shocked when they found serious injuries.”
With time being a critical factor, the medical team at Rio Grande immediately began calling local air medical transport services to request an aircraft.
Victoria was hoping that her colleagues at Eagle Air Med would be available to transport her, but both teams were already encumbered on other flights.
“When they told me that Eagle Air Med wasn’t available, they asked if it would be ok if they called REACH,” said Victoria. “I told them ‘absolutely.’”
Eagle Air Med and REACH are sister companies, both owned by Air Medical Group Holdings, so Victoria could count on receiving the same excellent patient care from REACH that she would receive from her own team.
REACH 29 located in Buena Vista responded to the call that day. On shift was Pilot Elizabeth Peebles, Flight Nurse Peter Bracker, and Flight Paramedic Scott Coduto.
“When we got to the hospital, everyone kept telling us ‘oh, you’re taking one of your people, she’s a flight nurse,’” said Peter.
Intrigued by this news and ready to get to work, Peter and Scott headed off to meet Victoria and take the report on her condition.
After introducing themselves, Scott and Peter set to work preparing Victoria for what she could expect on their flight to Denver. However, being that she was in their same line of work, both Scott and Peter felt that they could communicate more freely with her since their knowledge base was the same.
“This flight was almost easy,” said Peter. “We knew we could discuss our care plan and the medications with Victoria, and that if something in her condition changed, or if she became uncomfortable, she was going to let us know.”
After completing all their assessments and pre-flight preparations, Scott and Peter wheeled Victoria out to the helipad where Elizabeth was waiting with the aircraft.
It was shocking to me that our patient was someone that worked for our sister company since it is a small industry."
With their introductions out of the way and the aircraft safely loaded, Elizabeth lifted the single-engine Airbus H-125 helicopter and departed for Denver.
For the next hour and a half, Peter and Scott paid close attention to Victoria’s vital signs and were prepared to act if her condition began to decline. They also worked diligently to help manage her pain level.
“As a Flight Nurse, we knew that Victoria had given pain medications before, but had never been on the receiving end of them,” said Scott. “We ran our suggestions by her for pain management, and she was in total agreement; what we gave her helped to manage her pain for the duration of the flight.”
In addition to caring for her injuries, Peter and Scott made every effort to help Victoria relax and keep her mind from wandering. Being that she was aware of her condition and how serious it was, this was going to be a bit of a challenge.
“I knew too much,” said Victoria. “I knew what was going on and I was anxious about how bad the bleeding was and how I was about to undergo major surgery. Peter and Scott calmed me down and really made me feel safe and secure. They were great about communicating with me and really had this attitude that was like, ‘don’t worry; we’ve got ya.’”
Covering every topic from work to the air medical industry, to membership, to even sharing the occasional joke, the four passed the time quickly and managed to help Victoria relax enough to also rest at some points during the flight. And soon, Elizabeth was safely touching down on the helipad at St. Anthony’s hospital in Denver.
From there, Scott and Peter transferred care of their new friend and colleague to a waiting team of clinicians, many of whom already knew Victoria by name.
“The trauma surgeon on-duty happened to be someone that I’ve worked with in the past, so it was great knowing I was in good hands,” said Victoria.
Thankfully though, Victoria didn’t end up needing the skills of a surgeon after all. After being transferred to the care of the ICU team at St. Anthony’s she was put on strict bedrest and was closely monitored for three days before she was released to go home.
The other piece of good news – the cost of her transport was covered entirely by the AirMedCare Network membership that is given to all Air Medical Group Holding employees.
“Let me tell you, what a blessing that membership is,” said Victoria. “When I got the bill for my flight, I called AMCN because I thought I might be responsible for part of it, and the call center representative just said ‘no, it’s all taken care of.’ It was like I got this incredible bonus from work. It was such a relief to know that at least I didn’t have to worry about paying for the flight.”
Victoria did receive one piece of bad news though – no sports, no dirt bikes, and no horses for three months. Being that her trauma surgeon knew her personally, this was stern advice that he emphasized she follow.
We are happy to report that Victoria is now fully recovered from her accident and is happily back at work helping others with her team at Eagle Air Med.