Cape woman’s injury leads to nursing career
A freak accident that left her injured as she was preparing to leave for college changed Rachel Butler’s life, and the nurse who cared for her in the days that followed pushed her to pursue nursing at a time analysts say is an ideal moment to enter the booming profession.
“The amazing care that I received, it made me realize I wanted to do this myself,” Butler told the Herald. “I wanted to give back and make patients feel comfortable and reassured — the way that my nurse made me feel.”
Butler, now 22, said she was getting ready to start classes at Keene State College in New Hampshire and was less than two weeks away from her freshman orientation when one of her lifeguard shifts at Sea Street Beach in Hyannis took a horrific turn. The lifelong Cape Cod resident, who hoped to join the Owls swim team and study health sciences, said her life changed as she was getting down from the tower to clean the beach at the end of her shift.
“There was a wooden stake in the ground and I jumped back off the tower and landed on it,” she said. “The next thing I saw was the blood rushing down my leg. I was freaked out and one of the other lifeguards called 911.”
An ambulance rushed her to Cape Cod Hospital, where a surgeon named Dr. Lawrence Novak told her she had suffered some internal injuries and would need emergency surgery. Butler doesn’t remember the conversation, but her parents, Karen and John, said Novak told her she wouldn’t be able to leave for college as planned and, due to possible infections, she wouldn’t be able to swim.
“My parents said I just bawled my eyes out,” Butler said.
She was transported to Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston for a second surgery the next day and it was after that procedure that Rachel met Casey Perry, a veteran nurse at the Brigham working in the trauma unit, whose nurturing care left a lasting impression.
“I met her the night she was admitted,” Perry said. “She was just such a sweet girl who had such a horrific accident happen right before going off to college and starting her new life and her and her mom and her dad could not have been any sweeter.”
The two women discovered they had a lot in common. Perry had also been a competitive swimmer in high school and spent 15 years working as a lifeguard. She said the connection she and her patient made was instantaneous.
“I totally fell for her,” Perry said. “I wanted to help her understand that she would get better. Her and her parents were seeing what was happening right then and it was terrible, but I kept telling her, ‘You’re going to be OK, you’re young, you’re healthy, you’re going to recover.’?”
Butler did recover fully and attended Keene for two years before transferring to the nursing program at Simmons College in Boston for her final two years. She had decided to pursue a slightly different career path.
“After the injury,” she said, “it motivated me to go for nursing right away.”
Perry went back to her work, but she said her time with Butler stood out in her mind. The family sent the staff in the trauma unit a card after Butler finished her first semester of college and Perry said she often wondered how her former patient was doing in school.
This past spring, Karen Butler reached out to the Brigham in an effort to contact her daughter’s favorite nurse.
“My boss forwarded me an email from Butler’s mother inviting me to her pinning ceremony, I still get goosebumps thinking about it,” Perry said. “In nursing, the capstone of graduating is getting your pin. That’s a very proud moment as a nurse.”
Perry watched with Butler’s family as Rachel received her pin in May, and the two shared a tearful embrace after the ceremony.
“I just started crying, so many emotions came to me when I saw her,” Butler said, choking up a bit as she spoke. “I always felt like we had a special connection.”
Butler is hoping to land her first nursing job and is entering the profession at the perfect time. More than half the commonwealth’s nurses are over 51, according to recent data from the Department of Public Health, and specialty areas like trauma nurses could be in especially high demand.
Butler has applied to several hospitals, but said her preferred job would be working on the trauma floor at the Brigham. Perry, for one, would welcome her as a new co-worker.
“That would be so wonderful, really coming full circle,” she said. “With any job, you have tough days at work and thoughts of ‘why did I choose to do this?’ But hearing her story and hearing that I had such an impact on her renewed my energy in having that positive outlook on nursing.”