I spent most of 2019 interviewing nurses about their shoes to understand how we could make a shoe that could stand up to the 12 hour shift – but an unexpected interaction after a climbing accident helped me understand nurses in a way I couldn’t have in a normal conversation.
On a weekend in early September I traveled to the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon to go rock climbing with my friend Elijah. Viento State park was our normal weekend spot and we anticipated a fun day of pulling hard on steep basalt.
A couple hours into the day Eli was working a set of acrobatic moves that put him in an awkward inverted position and he fell unexpectedly. The angle of the fall caused the rope to pull him towards the jagged wall as he fell and impact a sharp edge.
“Ahhhhhhhhh shit!” he screamed as he hit the wall. “Lower me man! I’m cut down through the meat!
I lowered him and tried to keep calm as I saw the edge had sliced deep into the connective tissue in his thigh leaving a flap of bleeding flesh.
We did our best with our first aid kit to clean and and dress the wound – but couldn’t do much with limited supplies against a gaping nearly foot long flap of flesh hanging from his quadricep. Somehow Eli was able to limp back down the trail to the car and we sped towards the closest ER in Hood River, OR 20 miles away.
We arrived at the ER and he was quickly checked in and taken to a room for evaluation. The nurse arrived moments later. She approached Eli and looked at his cut.
“Wow. You’ve got one heck of a cut there. We’re going to take care of you.
With those simple words of acknowledgment and comfort Eli’s entire body language changed. For the first time since the fall you guys see his muscles relax and breathing become regular. I think he actually smiled for a moment
For the next couple hours the nurse led his care first cleaning and inspecting the wound, then bringing in specialists to evaluate the injury and recommend treatment. Luckily there was no damage to the quadricep muscle or bone fractures. He was able to get out hours later with about 40 stitches, a brace, and strict orders from the nurse not to try to climb soon. I thanked the nurse as we left and she smiled and wished Eli a good recovery.
On the quiet drive home, I thought about the nurses I spoke with in focus that summer who shared stories of feeling misunderstood and under-appreciated by patients, other hospital staff, friends and family. I thought back to the moment the nurse entered the room and said acknowledged Eli’s pain and offered comfort they’d care for him. It was such a small act, but it required deep empathy and skill to deliver just the right message to calm him and get him ready for the day. Her skill setup the rest of the team that cared for him for success by getting him ready for the day. It was such a small moment – and easy for a bystander to not paying closer attention to miss.
I came away with a new appreciation for nursing and an expanded goal. At BALA we would do more than just build great shoes. We would help more people truly understand what it feels like to be a nurse. To do that we’d have to do a lot more listening and a lot less talking - we would need to embed nurses deeply in our business and provide a platform for them to be heard directly.
Since that day we’ve interviewed and surveyed thousands more nurses to understand their needs, hired multiple nurses onto our team, and have embedded co-creation into our design process so that the nurse’s voice is heard at every step. On WeareBala.com and our social channels we’ll share stories directly from nurses so their message will be heard unfiltered. At Bala we aim to serve nurses through footwear and help create better empathy for their true lived experiences.
If you are a nurse and want to share ideas or feedback on how we can better serve you please send me a note at Brian.Lockard@WeAreBala.com.
Also, if you are the ER Nurse in Hood River who cared for my friend please reach out so I can thank you again and send you a free pair of shoes.