Nothing She Can’t Do: How a Nurse with Only One Arm Skillfully Cares for Her Patients

Nearly two million people with limb loss live in the United States. One of them is Carey Amsden, RN, BSN. She lost her arm as a result of an accident when she was only five years old, but she hasn’t let her disability stop her from pursuing her decision to be a nurse.

After the accident, Carey grew up knowing that she sometimes had to do things differently to accomplish a task. “I had to figure out how I could do something with only one hand and achieve the same result as someone who had two,” she says. “That’s pretty much how it’s been my whole life.”

When it came time to choose a career, Carey thought about becoming a nurse, but chose a career in business instead. Just before turning 30, she reconsidered and began nursing school.

Carey earned her nursing diploma from Huron School of Nursing and later a BSN at Cleveland State University. In nursing school, her determination and willingness to work hard enabled her to complete the program. Some tasks—like starting IVs—were especially tricky. She spent hours in the lab practicing until she mastered the technique. “Now it’s one of the easiest things I do,” she says. It also took time for her to figure out how to put on a sterile glove. “I put one glove across my [shortened] arm to create a sterile field and used that area to inch the other glove onto my hand,” she explains.

One Step Ahead

When asked how her disability has changed her, Carey replies, “I think that I have more of a critical-thinking mindset. I’m always trying to think one step ahead because I know I may have to adapt how I do something.” She also believes that she has a better understanding of her patients when they have to deal with challenges in their lives.

Carey now works in Staffing Resources, filling in wherever she’s needed at one of the Cleveland Clinic facilities—a job that gives her the opportunity to experience nursing in many different areas. She can’t ever recall a nursing task that she was unable to do. Carey faces the same challenges that all nurses deal with and recognizes that no nurse is strong in every task. “Everyone needs help with something,” she says. “The most important thing is that we acknowledge each other’s strengths and weaknesses and work together to accomplish the goal.”

Her fellow nurse colleagues have been supportive. Some have told her how impressed they are that she can do the same work they do. “I run around the floor just as much as they do, taking care of my patients,” she says. “They sometimes will say, ‘I have two hands and I don’t feel like I can do enough. I don’t know how you do what you do.’”

How Patients React

Almost every day, someone asks Carey about what happened to her arm. She willingly shares her story, hoping it will inspire others to overcome their obstacles. Sometimes patients want to help her. “They’ll hold the IV line for me,” she says. “I can do it without them, but I let them help.”

Recently, Carey has been working in the Cleveland Clinic’s Taussig Cancer Institute. “You see patients who are fighters and don’t give up. I relate to that type of personality,” she says. She also sees patients who are depressed. “If they can receive any inspiration by watching me care for them, I am thrilled that I can offer them some hope or motivation.”

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