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Tuesday, May 3, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Nicole Brodeur

Flying solo, nurse is enough

Joanne Endres had gotten used to the bouts of burnout and the weary knowledge that people don't get what she does for a living.

Then she kept a man from dying. And all that changed.

Endres, 50, an emergency-room nurse at Evergreen Hospital Medical Center in Kirkland, was on a plane from Minneapolis last month when an attendant asked that anyone with medical training come up front.

Endres, the only one to come forward, found a 54-year-old man showing all the signs of a heart attack.

He managed to tell Endres that he'd had bypass surgery, had a pacemaker and was carrying nitroglycerine. She had him take one, and an aspirin.

From there, time halted and skidded, like a child on ice skates. The pilot turned the plane around. Endres did her best in the narrow, bumpy aisle with the plane's medical kit as the man fell in and out of consciousness.

Others helped: One woman, hands shaking, tore tape for Endres to attach an IV. A man held the IV bag aloft.

As she monitored the man's improving pulse, Endres joked, "Some people will do anything to hold my hand."

He smiled weakly, thanked her. A tear ran down his cheek.

The plane landed and the man was carried off. As Endres headed back to her seat, everyone cheered.

For the first time in years, people asked, really asked, what it was like to be a nurse.

"She just knew what to do," one passenger marveled. "And there wasn't even a doctor there!"

Endres was grateful for that, and that someone "didn't have to call the man's daughter and tell her, 'We are very, very sorry, but your father died on the plane.' "

The two free gin and tonics were nice, too.

When Endres got home, she e-mailed family and friends about her experience.

The e-mail has spread to nursing staffs, schools — and others who needed reminding of what nurses do.

Dr. Charles A. Pilcher, an ER doctor at Evergreen, sent Endres' e-mail to his staff, with this addendum:

"I guess the only way a nurse can get recognized for the truly quality work you all do is to do it when there's no one else around to take the credit," Pilcher wrote. "I bet Evergreen could run for several days even if none of the doctors showed up."

On Saturday, the Evergreen Foundation will hold its annual "Heart of Evergreen" Gala at the Meydenbauer Center in Bellevue. Proceeds will help create a nursing institute at Evergreen. Five nurses will receive a Nursing Excellence Award. Endres is a nominee.

The man who held the IV bag was a priest from New York on his way to visit his friend — a nurse. A pilot wrote to tell her how "scary" it is when there's no one to help.

As for the man she saved?

"We were met by the medics, and I don't know," she said. "But even if I don't hear from him, this story was meant to do a lot more. If I am helping nurses feel validated and inspired again, I am thrilled."

Nicole Brodeur's column appears Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or nbrodeur@seattletimes.com. She better win.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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