After graduating, Suzadail worked in an intensive care unit and then an emergency room.
In the UPMC Williamsport ER, she received a DAISY Award for Extraordinary Nurses and found fulfillment in knowing that she was helping people on their worst days.
“It was not just the clinical and technical proficiency, but the art of nursing: the small squeeze of the hand and a smile to let them know you were there and they weren’t alone,” she says. “It was your mental health patients who felt their worlds crumbling around them and giving them empowerment back with something as small as a shower and a warm meal – small acts of kindness.”
In the course of her work as an emergency department RN, and her continued volunteer work as an EMT, she frequently encountered flight nurses and flight medics and admired their work. She read every book on the subject and dreamed of working in a helicopter.
She continued to advance her education, obtaining her master’s degree, the trauma certified registered nurse credential, sexual assault nurse examiner training and other credentials. (In Fall 2020, she began pursuing a second master’s degree in emerging media with a concentration in health communication.)
“Every certification I completed was with the end goal to fly,” she says.
Nearly two and a half years ago, she met that goal as she joined the Geisinger Life Flight staff, flying out of a base at the Williamsport Regional Airport in Montoursville along with several Penn College paramedic program alumni.
The weight of the work before her was heavy: “People associate the flight suit with competence, confidence and skills. Then I became the person in the flight suit.”
One of the challenges is continual change: Patients change from moment to moment, illnesses evolve, and the field of medicine continues to advance, requiring her to learn about new diagnoses and treatments.
“I have to constantly know more, and I continually get served humble pie, but it’s a cool job, because you get to operate at the top of your nursing license. I couldn’t imagine anything else. The combination of adrenaline and brains is music.”
The crew lands in tragic scenes. Often, she looks at patients who, intubated and unresponsive, do not look like the photo she sees on their driver’s license. She strives to return them to that state.
Although they don’t look like themselves, “you’re looking at someone’s someone,” she says.
“The hard, defeating part of this job is that you’re going to save a lot of lives, but some you are not,” she adds. “Me, as an over-empathetic person, having been flown in a helicopter, having lost people, for me it was learning how to deal with these losses.”
Emergency responders must learn to take care of themselves and know when to take a break, she says.
After difficult losses, the wins keep her going.
“The most rewarding experience has been when one of my most injured patients of my career, who was in a vehicle crash with a terribly lacerated liver requiring over 140 different blood products, multiple surgeries, months of intensive care, ventilator use, heart and lung bypass, and renal replacement therapy, was able to be discharged, and his brother sent me pictures of him and his children at his sister’s wedding.
“I remember having to intubate him, start multiple blood products and complex medication drips to stabilize his hemodynamics in the middle of a dark helicopter. I visited him three times in the hospital, and every time, seeing him get a little better each time, made me realize this was where I wanted to be. Not every patient survives, but patients like him strengthen your resolve.”
Suzadail is a picture of resilience and resolve.
“Not everyone has been as misfortunate to go through as many things as I have, but not everyone has been as fortunate as me,” she says, grateful for a support system that includes her parents, husband, colleagues and Penn College faculty.
She recently accepted a part-time second job as a flight nurse with Penn State Health’s Life Lion, where she flies on the same helicopter that transported her from Williamsport to Hershey when she was displaying the signs of a stroke.
“I feel like every experience up to now has put me in the right place,” she says. “I would have changed a few things, but nothing has let me down.”
She hopes to use the lessons from the storms she’s weathered to help not only her patients, but future nurses – and others – who find themselves facing obstacles in the pursuit of their dreams.
“Bad things can happen to the best people,” she says. “However, it’s important to realize that those bad things never have to define who you are or destroy your dreams.
“It’s OK to put your goals on a brief pause, but pick them back up and keep working on them. Anything we want in life, we can make happen if we dig our heels in, refuse to take ‘no’ for an answer and instead reframe our thinking as ‘not right now.’ So there’s no shame in stepping back, taking a breath, getting your finances, mental health, physical health and family situations in better places in order to dedicate yourself completely to your goal. Timelines are self-imposed – I took six years to get my BSN, and I like to think I’m a decent nurse anyway.”
Her faculty agree: “She was, and is, genuinely a delightful person and an excellent nurse,” Mathers says.
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