The Flight Nurse: Shara Griffis

October 25, 2013

A helicopter flight nurse! My stomach was in knots while reading about this amazing woman. I can’t begin to fathom the amount of courage and focus it takes to operate under such extreme circumstances. Wow… just wow. That’s really all I can say.


Thank you for sharing your story, Shara. I now have a better understanding and appreciation for the heros in the sky, and a special thank you goes out to Tarni for the ultimate hook-up!


This is why I love hearing about women and what they do. We surround each other daily, yet have no idea that the woman standing next to us might be a real life hero…


shara helecopter


where are you from?
Up in the mountains of Santa Cruz, Felton, Ca.

what did you want to be when you were a kid?
I actually remember being asked that at a young age… I wanted to be a bird.

what do you do now?
I am a flight nurse working on a helicopter.  We fly as a two RN’s and one pilot crew.  We respond to “911 calls” requested usually by paramedics or fire fighters, and also critical care transport of patients from hospital to hospital either ER or ICU.

describe a typical day at work.
Once you arrive at work- you can be called at any point in time for a call….We carry pagers and work phones to get notified of a call.  The first thing we do after “changing of the crews”, is for us all to go inspect the entire interior of the helicopter.  The pilot does a “daily inspection” of the aircraft, (as do the mechanics) and  the nurses will check the medical equipment.  We check to make sure all the equipment is present and functioning.  Literally every bag, every medication, IV supplies, down to how many syringes we carry in every part of the helicopter is checked.  After our checks, the crew will conduct a briefing.  Briefings include weather, weather patterns of the day/night, sunrise/sunset times, if there are any flight restrictions in the areas, (( fires, president Obama visiting the area)), any issues with the aircraft or maintenance, and we will discuss a “hot topic”.  Hot topics generally include emergency procedures, aircraft radios/air traffic control, and other aviation related information.  It changes every day……. Then….. We wait for a call.  Since our aircraft is based at the hospital and the nurses are hospital employees, we can help out in the ER with traumas when they arrive, respond to “code blue” in the hospital, practice skills, and work on projects or other things we need to keep current in what we do.

describe your worst day at work.
There have been a few “bad days”, but one of my worst days was when I was a brand new flight nurse, maybe the first week off of orientation.  It was the middle of the night and we were called for a motor vehicle accident.  It was a young woman who was the unrestrained passenger in a small compact car traveling approximately 100mph.  The driver was intoxicated, and crashed the car into a tree head on.  The young woman was ejected from the vehicle, and while being ejected, her leg was caught and traumatically amputated below the knee.  I remember landing on the scene, and it seemed like chaos.  Since the helicopter remains “hot” it is quite loud and difficult to hear.  There were hunks of  metal scattered all over the highway- and a large unidentifiable piece which was what remained of the car.  There was one fatality in the vehicle.  When we arrived to our patient, she was completely exposed, and screaming in pain.  Her stump had been wrapped in  gauze to control the bleeding and cover the wound.  Her amputated leg was placed in her lap, in a bag.  We quickly loaded her into the helicopter with help from the firefighters, and off we flew.  We were giving her lots of warm fluids to keep her blood pressure up, and also pain medication.  When we arrived at the trauma center, we reported off to the trauma team and they began to work on her.  When they uncovered her stump- it was the most horrific thing I had seen.  Between what I saw, and her screaming in pain- it completely overwhelmed me and I fainted.  It was the first traumatic amputation I had ever seen- before.  It was awful.

what’s going through your mind during an emergency?
You are always sizing up all aspects of the situation and anticipating the “what if” scenarios- People don’t realize that in addition to dealing with the emergency you are thinking to yourself:  Is the scene safe for us to land?  Is it safe for us to approach the scene or is there any dangers for the crew?  what resources do I have?  Where is the closest hospital with a helicopter pad in case we need to divert?  How close is the nearest hospital by ground ambulance?  Do I stay on scene to do “X”, or is the patient stable enough to load  in the helicopter so I can do “X” on the way to the hospital?  Is the patient drunk on drugs or suicidal?  Are they combative or will they become combative?  Which hospital would have the best resources to care for this patient?  Is it a pediatric patient?  A burn?  A stroke? A trauma?

During the “hands on” of an emergency, you are completely engaged and focused on what emergently needs to happen.  If you have the extra resources, ((like in the back of an ambulance with paramedics)), you can delegate things like putting in an IV or an Intraosseous device in the patient.  Whatever they can do within their scope of practice.  Your emergencies are “what is going to kill you and how can I stabilize this now?”….. Some of the “life saving interventions”  include : placing an advanced airway device, ((aka.  a breathing tube)), controlling bleeding, needle thoracostomy, defibrillation and CPR.  During an emergency,  everyone must be in sync- everyone must work as a team- everyone must communicate clearly.  Even though your heart is racing inside from the adrenaline- you have to remain calm on the outside to work and communicate effectively.  Your voice, your tone, your non-verbal body language- it all sets the “atmosphere” of the situation.  If YOU remain calm- people around you remain more calm and things run more smoothly.  If the lead running the call is frantic, scattered, yelling- the situation does not run well.

how has your family influenced your career choices?
I don’t believe my family had much influence on my career choice.

what is your favorite family tradition?
My favorite family tradition is by far spending Thanksgiving together- My parents, brother, sister-in-law, nephews and my sister-in-laws family too.  I love Thanksgiving, because it truly is the one holiday I feel where people are grateful.  The focus is on love, visiting, playing, living in the moment and of course eating.