Car crash is catalyst for nurse’s intensive care work

May 6, 2019

When Eric Vezina was 20 years old, he was involved in a horrific single-car accident outside of New Bedford, Massachusetts, that left him with six severed tendons in his right arm, multiple punctured arteries, a detached optic nerve and a severe concussion.

From the moment his friend’s car flew off the road at about 100 mph to the completion of a six-hour surgery to save his right arm and hand, Vezina recalls very little.

As a passenger in the car, he remembers telling his friend to slow down, pull over and let him out of the car.

As a passenger in an ambulance minutes later and then in the intensive care unit, he remembers coming in and out of consciousness and the distinct comforting presence of paramedics and the nurses and doctors at a hospital in Boston.

The driver didn’t survive the accident. And the doctors would later tell Vezina he himself was minutes away from bleeding to death.

His near brush with death, combined with his experience that day with medical staff, was enough to convince him to pursue a career as a nurse - a journey he would embark on years later by enrolling in a college in Oregon.

“I’m a big believer in karma after that car accident,” Vezina said. “While I was in the hospital, I kept thinking about what a cool job it would be to be a nurse in the ICU. I think I recognized early on that I’ve always been someone who would stress about work no matter what the work was, so at that point I decided well, let’s stress over a job that’s worth it at least.”

After his schooling, Vezina spent a few years on the medical floor honing his basic nursing skills, such as IV insertion and catheter work. But he always had his sights set on eventually becoming a nurse in the intensive care unit, performing the same work of those who saved his life more than 20 years ago now.

Vezina, 41, said an instructor who had been “instrumental during his time at nursing school” told him during his exit interview he was a good fit for intensive care work.

“I valued his opinion and took his words to heart,” he said.

Vezina said he believes his instructor recognized his knack for thinking two steps ahead - one of many qualities nurses in intensive care units must possess, given the hasty and unpredictable nature of their work.

“All nurses have specialized training of some sort and play a big part in any hospital,” Vezina said. ”[In intensive care] we have to make decisions very quickly that require a lot of confidence and you never know what’s coming through the door.”

In addition to possessing the technical skills and personality necessary for intensive care work, Vezina also said the crash he was involved in offers him an opportunity to relate to his patients that come in, normally in a state of panic. He said he has a special soft spot for treating patients who have been involved in severe car accidents.

“I know what it’s like to be in pain in a hospital bed after an incident like that and I know how valuable it is to have a caring team looking out for you,” Vezina said.

Prior to becoming a registered nurse in the intensive care unit at Kalispell Regional Medical Center about two years ago, Vezina got his start in rural health care at a small hospital in Washington. It was there he was trained in what he described as a more minor intensive care unit. Vezina said his team’s training philosophy, which was to give him, as the newer nurse, the sickest patients and assist him every step of the way with treatment, was integral in preparing him for the intensive care unit at Kalispell Regional.

“I was incredibly lucky to fall into the position that I did with that hospital and when I came here, I felt ready for the demands of the job,” Vezina said.

And although the two hospitals are different in many ways, Vezina is able to draw parallels in the quality of teams he has had the opportunity to work with.

Similar to the hospital where he got his start in intensive care work, there is a healthy balance of working autonomously and in tandem with others at Kalispell Regional in the unit. According to Vezina, having the trust of your co-workers to work with patients on one’s own, yet understanding there is an entire team available should the need arise, is one of the many reasons he enjoys coming to work at the unit.

“We definitely help each other out in many regards and always have a sense of what is going on in the rooms around us,” Vezina said. “But you have to be able to trust one another and trust each other’s work.”

Today is National Nurses Day, an opportunity recognize professionals such as Vezina, who have chosen their line of work in pursuit of making a difference.

According to the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, as of 2016, there are more than 15,000 registered nurses statewide. Kalispell Regional Healthcare alone employs more than 4,000 team members, many of whom are nurses.

Reporter Kianna Gardner can be reached at 758-4439 or kgardner@dailyinterlake.com.