A suburban woman is returning to work as an intensive care unit nurse this week, more than three months after a serious car crash forced her to become an ICU patient at her own hospital.
On Nov. 5, 2022, Christina Riek was driving her 11-year-old son, Ben, to his grandparents’ house before heading to start her nursing shift at Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville.
“All of a sudden, I saw lights and we were hit,” Riek said.
Riek was pulling out of her condo complex when another car hit her right on the driver’s side door. Riek and her son were both rushed to the hospital, where it was determined Ben was okay. Christina, though, had serious injuries.
“I remember seeing Dr. Watson. He came in and you know, he joked with me, he said, you know, this is not the way to get to work, Christina,” Riek said.
Dr. Bill Watson, a surgeon, was warned that it was a colleague who needed his help.
“You really have to put it out of your mind. And you have to focus on the task and you know, she’s in a car accident, her blood pressure is low. It’s most likely from bleeding. Where’s the bleeding?” Dr. Watson said.
Dr. Watson determined Riek needed immediate surgery.
“I remember getting in the OR and you know seeing staff and joking with them and then after that apparently I coded in the OR,” Riek said.
“Her heart actually stopped for a few moments. I think we did CPR for about 30 seconds, but she’s young, she’s healthy. And you know, we were giving her blood transfusions and things like that. So we were able to get her back, thank God, easily,” Dr. Watson said.
“My charge nurse came up to me and said, that trauma they called in, that is Christina. I said what? And they said she’s not doing great. We want you to take care of her when she comes out of the OR, so it’s nerve racking,” said Gina Findlay, a fellow ICU nurse.
But Findlay said everyone on Riek’s care team let their training take over, as they would for any other patient.
“Quick to respond. Emotional, but we did it,” Findlay said.
Riek’s pelvis was broken in seven places, but it was a 10-inch cut on her liver that almost killed her.
“If it would have extended another two or three millimeters, it would have gone into the main vein and she wouldn’t have even made it to the hospital,” Dr. Watson said.
Riek spent a month in the hospital and then had to learn to stand and walk again. After nearly three months of physical therapy, Christina has been cleared to return to work, with a renewed appreciation for her profession.
“I loved being a nurse and an ICU nurse before, but now I see how essential we are. We are communicating with patients and the families and just keeping that open line of communication is so very important,” Riek said.
“It’s definitely a sense of pride when you’re able to save this severity of an injury where, you know, if you look at the literature there’s over a 60% mortality rate, and she’s coming back to work three months later,” Dr. Watson said.
“Sometimes you don’t win these things. And we did. And so I’m ready for her to fully come back to us and be part of our team again,” said Findlay.