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RN Tammy Brown – our Nurse of the Week – is a good person to have around on an accident scene. Being “good in a crisis” is an essential component of the nursing skill set, but the stress and stakes are a little more challenging when the accident victim is your spouse, the accident is horrific and painful, and you have to prevent his/her death from shock and blood loss until the emergency team arrives. When that happens, your spouse can justifiably refer to you as “the ultimate hero.”
In this case, Tammy’s nursing expertise and preternatural cool saved her husband’s life on October 16. On that afternoon the Browns’ idyllic boating trip to Sand Island near Pensacola, Florida came to a premature and gruesome end when Tammy’s husband Rob (a clinical pharmacist) got his leg caught in the boat’s propeller. The beauty of the island and water often attracts local boaters, but the water was nearly deserted that afternoon when the Browns set out. When the boat kept getting stuck in some sand not far from the shore, Rob got into the water and went behind the boat to push it, while Tammy manned the steering wheel and worked the throttle to reverse. Then, she heard her husband’s agonized scream over the noise of the motor, “You got me! You got me!” – and their pleasure cruise metamorphosed into a scene from a Grand Guignol horror movie – complete with a bona fide jump scare.
While Tammy was trying to maneuver them free of the sand, a wave had hit the boat, which then bumped into Rob, causing him to slip and fall. His leg met the propeller, and as the motor ran, the blades chopped into his limb with the mindless and relentless brutality of the shark in Jaws. As Tammy later explained, “The boat came back with the waves and the current, and it [the propeller] grabbed him. It grabbed his foot. Then it took his whole leg, broke his femur and took all of his calf off.”
Tammy immediately pivoted to Trauma Nurse mode – with a dash of the adrenaline-fueled super-powers that often come when a loved one’s life is at stake. She jumped into the water, and tried to calm her spouse-turned-patient as she dragged him back to shore, reassuring him, “Baby we got this, we got this, calm down, we got this.” As she noted the severed lower part of Rob’s leg floating on the water, her husband gasped, “tourniquet.” Seeking the nearest rope, she headed for the anchor, “Everything was up. I had to jump on that boat.” She added, wonderingly, “I don’t know how I got on that boat. I’m short. Normally, I can’t climb on a jet ski without help.” In those moments, he [Rob] knew he was very close to dying,” Tammy told a local reporter after the incident.
Back on solid ground, she focused on curbing the blood loss from her husband’s mangled limb. Grabbing the rope, she got to work. “I had the leg, just trying to hold the leg together and hold the tourniquet,” she recalled, but an injury this severe allowed no time for tarrying. Once her makeshift tourniquet was in place, she hunted for her phone to call 911, and realized the phone was still on the boat. So, she coaxed Rob to hold onto the rope/tourniquet while she went back to the boat. After she retrieved the phone and returned to her husband’s side, Tammy faced a new challenge: making a call with gore-soaked hands. “My phone wouldn’t open.” Then, “I couldn’t get it to swipe because I have blood, tissue, and water on my hand… I was rubbing [the phone] in my hair trying to dry it. I started praying to God to please open my phone.”
Tammy somehow managed to call emergency services, then continued praying for divine support. The wait must have seemed endless. “Tammy sat on her husband’s leg, held his tourniquet, repeatedly called 911, and begged for help for 40 minutes until a U.S. Coast Guard speedboat located them on the beach,” according to the Pensacola News Journal. When the Coast Guard reached the pair, Tammy told them to take her husband to a hospital immediately, then to return and pick her up from the scene on Sand Island. As the Coast Guard ship carried Rob to Baptist Hospital in Pensacola, “I started walking the sand and praying to God to keep him … and as I was walking on the sand … all I could see was Rob’s bloodline.”
Once she reached Rob’s bedside, her optimism came flooding back. “[I said] ‘Praise the Lord! He’s alive. He is alive. It’s a miracle.’” In all likelihood, her quick actions and cool head saved Rob’s life. After five surgeries, he’s on his way out of the ICU and the hospital is fitting him for a prosthetic. “When you think all is lost, and you think there’s no hope, or this is it — hold on … hold on tight,” said Tammy.
The horrible freak accident has failed to sour the recent West Virginia expats on the joys of boating, though, and they have no intention of forsaking their trips to Sand Island. Rob started using a walker a week later, and they plan to resume their favorite Floridian activity after he fully recovers and can handle a prosthetic leg. Tammy sounds almost yearning as she describes the joys of their island trips: “We’d have the sand and all the beauty of the island in front of us. Then we go over to the Gulf-side and get in the waves. We’d have lunch in the boat… feed the birds. We go out on that boat, and we go to this island,” she declares. “We have our own spot, and we plan to do it again.”