What I do

What I do

What I do: Howard Sandau, registered nurse

Howard Sandau, registered nurseCara Metz

A member of the Federation of Nurses/UFT, Sandau works in the Surgical/Trauma Intensive Care Unit at Lutheran Medical Center in Brooklyn.

What is a day at work like for you?

Providing complete care to patients who are critically injured, either from gunshot wounds or stabbings, or in critical condition from surgical emergencies. Or they can be in cardiogenic shock from heart attacks or septic shock from a systemic infection. These are people who are on breathing machines and life-sustaining medications.

That sounds like intense work.

It’s a matter of life and death every day. These patients are managed every minute, and every hour there are measurements taken to monitor their cardiac, respiratory and kidney functions.

What are your hours like?

From 7:15 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. I like working at night because of the autonomy. I work as a professional in collaboration with the interdisciplinary team, including the intensive care doctor. There are not so many people around. It’s just us working together to ensure the best outcome for the patient.

What’s the difference between what you do and working in the emergency room?

I started out as a paramedic when I was 19, so working in the ER after nursing school was a natural fit. The work in the ER was a bit mechanical; there’s minimal connection to the patient. I realized I needed something more intense. So I transferred to the surgical intensive care unit — you’re using your brain and utilizing critical thinking skills continuously.

How did that lead into becoming a member of the union?

I’ve been an R.N. since 2006 and came on board the Federation of Nurses/UFT — currently I’m a delegate — after I started at Lutheran in 2007.

How do you manage the stress?

I surround myself with doing things that make me happy. I enjoy learning and I’m in grad school now learning how to be an acute critical care nurse practitioner — even more autonomy! I facilitate a women’s HIV support group — they call me “Oma,” short for only man allowed. I’m also active in an organization for people with Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

Was there a moment at work that was particularly rewarding for you?

I will never forget the time when we took care of a man who had a severe head injury, with a bad prognosis, and three years later, when I stepped off the elevator, there was his family crying, saying they never forgot the care we gave him. He was home, awake, off the ventilator and part of his family again. The care we give is not only for the patient, but the family.

What made you want to become a nurse?

I met a gentleman who had Lou Gehrig’s Disease, who was on a ventilator and required one-on-one care, who I cared for for 15 years and who taught me about life, love, compassion and patience. That’s what inspired me, after he passed away, to become a nurse.

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