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OU Health Edmond Medical Center Nurses Discover Shared History

In April, 1995, Jim Castle, R.N., had been an emergency room nurse less than a year. He and his wife – who is also a nurse -- were at their home in Edmond on April 19, when the phone rang.

“My wife was placed on standby to come to work,” Castle said. “The next call was from my supervisor with similar instructions for me.”

He turned on the TV and was stunned by the images that filled the screen – columns of dense smoke, a shifting shroud across the gaping north face of what had been the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City.

On that April morning, following the instructions given by his supervisor, Castle made his way to OU Medical Center (now OU Health University of Oklahoma Medical Center) and reported to the ER charge nurse. He was directed to a secondary ER set up in the cafeteria, where about 20 cots were waiting. Only a few patients had been transported. “We didn’t have computer charting back then, so I picked up all the paper and began triage and assessment.”

The first patient he approached for triage was a young woman, clearly in pain, complaining that her head hurt. “I tried to get more information from her but she was not immediately responsive.” Castle said he grabbed a doctor to assess for head trauma and the patient was sent for a CAT scan. “That was actually the last time I saw her. I learned later she passed away as the result of multiple brain bleeds. I heard she was an off-duty nurse who had arrived at the bombing site as a volunteer.”

Like the first responders on the scene that day, Castle experienced one of the longest working days of his career. But he tried to put the horror of the day behind him and the years went by. “It was overwhelming. I just tried not to think about it.”

In 2015, Castle began work at OU Health Edmond Medical Center’s freestanding ER, where Carollynn Dean, R.N., a nursing student at the time, was working as a registration clerk.

During his usual night shift, Castle overheard snippets of co-workers’ conversations at the registration desk, sited in an open space where voices carried easily. He heard Dean talking to the security guard about the Murrah Building Bombing and a close family friend who died after being injured at the site. It was the same patient Castle had triaged 20 years earlier. “My jaw dropped. I walked up to her and told her I was the nurse who cared for her loved one in that makeshift ER. As the memories came flooding back, I said I hoped I had done my best for her.”

Dean said she was only five years old when the bombing occurred. “She was a longtime family friend – the wife of my dad’s best friend – but she was as close as any family member and much like an aunt to me. I was devastated by her tragic death.” Despite the years that had passed, she felt comforted by the knowledge that Castle had been at the family friend’s bedside. “I’m grateful that Rebecca had Jim to care for her. He has a way of calming and comforting patients. It can be absolutely crazy in the ER, and he always takes time to explain things to patients who are scared.”

Upon graduation from nursing school, Dean returned to the OU Health team, working in the ER. Castle was thrilled to welcome her as a colleague and friend. “Carollynn is very personable, pleasant, and kind with a caring attitude. I’ve watched her grow for five or six years, taking on greater responsibility as a charge nurse. She is not only smart and methodical, but brings a calming influence, and always goes beyond expectations.” They often work together when their shifts overlap or align.

Last year, Castle was the recipient of the annual DAISY Award and appreciated its significance. The DAISY Foundation established the award to recognize a select number of the most passionate and caring nurses around the world. It is a prestigious honor, and Castle nominated Dean for the award this year. Castle said we need more nurses like Dean, who demonstrate such dedication to patient care. He admires the way she conducts herself and cares for people. “She has a new baby and she’s a great mom. Her sense of humor and warmth make people feel better just by being around her.”

But in nominating Dean for the award, Castle also hoped to draw attention to Dean’s relationship with his former patient, to sound a call to remember the magnitude of her sacrifice. “I wish I had known her (the patient). She showed up as a volunteer, entering the imploding building with no protective gear, to do whatever she could to help. I felt in my heart that to endanger your life on behalf of others was an extreme act of courage.”

Beginning in late 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic created hardship on a global scale. Castle, too, faced an unusual level of adversity. Cancer took the life of his younger sister in 2020, and because of pandemic concerns, he was unable to attend the funeral service. In January 2021, he contracted COVID-19 and remained in the intensive care unit for a week, followed by a slow recovery over two months, returning to work in March 2021. In Dec 2021, he was diagnosed with colon cancer. After surgery and chemotherapy, he was finally cleared to return to work in earlier in April. Not only cleared for work, Castle is grateful to have an “all clear” from the cancer.

Dean said she’s known many nurses including a few family members, but still had a fairly narrow idea of nursing as a profession. “As I worked in the hospital environment, seeing what nurses do on a daily basis, how they make people feel better, I actually fell in love with it, especially the ER. I knew all these great women who were nurses and it just felt natural.”

Castle strives to be an example of what it means to give the very best care and said each patient must be treated with respect. “I try to be kind to all, rise above the circumstances. Most people are just good people. But when people are sick or injured, they’re not at their best. I’m not here to judge them. My job is to bring comfort, ease pain, and help them through the crisis, no matter what.”

Dean admits that the rigors of the pandemic sparked momentary thoughts of other possible career paths, but ultimately, she believes she’s in the right place. “I can’t see myself doing anything else. It can be exhausting, but I love what I do, and the team members who work with me.”

While Castle doesn’t make it a habit to look back or dwell on the past, he is thoughtful about how nursing shaped his life. “I started in 1994, and had great mentors along the way. Nursing has changed my life tremendously and opened a lot of doors. I wouldn’t change a thing.”