Christine Williams

Calm in controlled chaos

Christine took a chance in her career and signed up for the flight nurse program, where she learned the power of connection and trust.

portrait of Christine Williams, nurse at UC Davis Health


So I was a nurse in the surgical ICU, and there was a position that was open. And one of the flight nurses asked me if I was interested in it, and I said, "No, I'm going to be a CRNA." Because I was at that point getting ready to apply to a CRNA school, and then I said, "Well, maybe I want to try that." And so I applied for the position, and I got the position. So then I was a flight nurse for eight years.

No, it was 96, yeah. 96 to 2004. I worked for the flight program. So it was fabulous, right? I mean, it's controlled chaos. So it's all those things that I love. So, it was the best of all worlds because we did so many things. While people generally think of it as, Oh, you're doing the same calls, and that kind of emergency type, those types of flights, but really what we did is 60% critical care transport. So we did a lot of critical care transport for adults, and pediatrics, and neonates. We did all three areas.

So I felt like it was a great experience for me, because I have never been able to figure out what I love more in nursing in terms of surgical versus medicine, or adults versus peds, or trauma versus non-trauma. So this allowed me to do all of it. All age groups, all disease processes, and you never knew what you're going to have any given day, and a lot of autonomy and a lot of responsibility.

So it really, it's humbling, over and over again, but that's what makes you grow, right? So it what makes you be stronger, and learn more, and develop your confidence, and it was a really great time. And I feel fortunate that I could experience it. One thing that was, I think, wonderful about it, which it was kind of a double edge statement, because I say it as wonderful, which means that something bad is happening to someone, and/or to their family, but most people are like, "Oh, it's fast paced." And I do have those stories about the scene in the middle of the night on the freeway, and what that looks like. And that was all wonderful experiences, and lots of good exposure and experience.

But the other piece that is unlike anything I have experienced is having to come into a situation, and this happened a lot with the pediatric patients that we transported, having to come into a situation, most of the time in another hospital that some distance away from here, where you're coming in as a stranger to a situation where the child is very sick and obviously needing to come to a tertiary care center. Most of the time the parents could not come. So you are having to create relationships and develop trust in a very short period of time, because the patient has to come with you, and the parents have to relinquish their child to you, and it creates a very interesting relationship with you, because you feel that responsibility and you take that responsibility, and you understand the agony that they're in, but that they have to trust you. And taking that trust is a lot of responsibility, but it's also an honor, right, to take the trust and say, "I'm going to do the best I can to take care of your child."

And there was one situation where I transported a patient, a little boy who had meningococcemia, and so he was really sick, but he was not as sick as he was going to get yet. With the parents, they were obviously very scared. It comes on very fast. So it was like a normal day in the morning, and then an evolution of an incredibly, critically ill child in a short period of time that now is going away with strangers. And so we flew him here and he did decompensate during flight. We ended up intubating him and resuscitating him on the way here. He was very ill in the pediatric intensive care unit for several months on multiple pressors, and just was incredibly ill, but he ended up recovering, and did well. And it was a great experience in that you were able to make a difference. You knew it was your responsibility to take care of him, to get him here in the best condition that he could be in so that we would have the opportunity to take care of him. And then we had the ability to check in with the patient throughout the course of their hospitalization and meet with the parents, talk to the parents, have conversations with them about how things transpired in flight and what occurred and how he did. And so I readily touched base with the parents throughout that time.

And so you just have this bond that is really odd, because it's created in a very short time with a lot of responsibility, and a lot waging on it. So you disconnect differently than you do in other situations, or at least my experience was, it was different than other experiences that I've had as a nurse.

And so it was just wonderful. He got better. I went to picnic with them after. They had events where they invited us to come to see him. So it was just a really incredible experience, but a different experience than you would typically think of in a flight nursing situation, but because we are, and we're a hospital-based program, we did a lot of inner facility transfers, and we did a lot of tertiary care transfers from other places to here, because of our critical care capability for neonates, pediatrics, and adults.