ICU Nurse Ready for Anything, Including Caring for the CEO
Michael O. Mudryy loves his work as a nurse in the medical intensive care unit at Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia; it’s intense and challenging. Still, he wasn’t fully prepared for the patient he was assigned when he arrived for the night shift one recent evening.
“I get to work and they tell me I’m going to be taking care of ‘the big guy,’” he recalls. “I said, ‘Like physically? An obese patient?’ They said, ‘No, it’s Barry.’ I said Barry?”
The “big guy” was Einstein President and Chief Executive Officer Barry R. Freedman, who was hospitalized for a severe respiratory infection. Mudryy, who’s worked at Einstein for less than a year, reacted as you might have expected. “I was petrified,” he says.
But the patient and nurse soon discovered they both were raised in New York, moved to Philadelphia and worked at Einstein, and had family roots in Odessa, Ukraine. They were just a couple of Jewish guys from Brooklyn – even if one of them signed the other one’s paycheck.
“We just got into a conversation and I asked him how he got into nursing,” Freedman says. “And he obviously had an accent, so I asked him his background and where he grew up and his ancestry and we found out it was a small world.” The accent, by the way, was Russian, not Brooklyn.
The recent incident was the first time Freedman has been a patient at his own hospital since becoming CEO in 2003. Freedman has a history of chronic asthma. So when he developed a fever and breathing problems, his doctors were concerned about the potential for serious complications and sent him to the emergency room. He was admitted to the medical ICU.
Mudryy, who was one of his nurses, was as impressed as he was intimidated.
“Barry’s awesome,” Mudryy says. “I’m very happy that he’s the CEO. He cares very much about what we do here.”
Mudryy says he mentally steeled himself against “the elephant in the room,” and proceeded to treat Freedman as if he was just a routine patient. Sort of.
“I had to put a needle into Barry’s vein to get a couple of vials of blood,” Mudryy says. “I searched for a vein – it was as if I was looking for gold during the gold rush in California. When I found one and committed to the process, Barry was grimacing. I said, ‘All right, he grimaced. I’m done. I’m getting fired.’”
When Mudryy had retrieved the blood, he emerged from the room, held the bag of blood aloft and raised his other fist in a Rocky-style punch of triumph. “Two of the nurses were applauding. It was the easiest but most terrifying blood draw I’ve ever done as a nurse.”
At one point, Mudryy dropped Freedman’s cell phone. “I had to get into this awkwardly close space and his phone was charging. It dropped and I’m thinking, what do I do if I crack his screen? Do I offer to pay for it?”
And he bravely gave Freedman a sponge bath. “I wasn’t going to treat him any differently than any other patient,” Mudryy says. “Whether you’re Barry or homeless, you receive the same love, the same care, the same concern from me. It doesn’t matter at all, especially working here, in the midst of an immense level of poverty.”
Freedman says Mudryy seemed confident and professional and showed no signs of intimidation. Indeed, he says, all the nurses “who drew the short straw and were assigned to me provided such exceptional care and professionalism and were personable, responsive and communicative.”
“I hope it wasn’t because I was the CEO,” Freedman says. But he acknowledges “it might have had something to do with it.”
Mudrry, who moved to Philadelphia from New York to be with his fiancée, loves the intensity of the ICU – the need to make life and death decisions that get the adrenalin pumping. “I sometimes step back in the middle of the night with my heart racing, and think, ‘This is real. This is what I do for a living.’ It’s humbling,” he says.
“Working in critical care is like being a Navy SEAL. You need to be unfazed, to be on your toes, to be very vigilant at all times.” Not to mention being able to respond, with grace, to the pressure of treating the big guy.