Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center nurses recently added a medical miracle to their resume by saving one of their own: a comatose Army nurse who had just returned to Earth from a mission to Jupiter.

Credit creative thinking and team collaboration with solving the mystery illness.

“We were like superheroes,” Alex Castolina said after the ‘aha’ moment when her teammates from Urology revived their dying patient.

But first, said Castolina, a licensed vocational nurse, the team had to study the astronaut’s mission journal that was full of cryptic clues detailing such things as a love for Skittles and how a piano had boosted the mission crew’s morale.

No, it was not a scene from a science fiction movie, but rather an ingenious escape room challenge that baffled CRDAMC nurses during the weeklong celebration of National Nurses Week, held May 6-10 at the Fort Hood hospital.

“I’d give it a nine out of 10 for awesomeness and a 10 out of 10 if we had won,” Capt. Ashley Sequin joked, who participated in the team-bonding event with fellow staff members from the Mother Baby Unit.

Seven teams participated in the hospital’s May 7 puzzle. In the scenario, the first nurse in space had obtained critical keys to curing cancers on Earth. Since she came back in a coma, she couldn’t verbalize her condition. Her journals, however, provided important clues as to what occurred and what it would take to “cure” her.

“Teamwork. The cure was teamwork,” said Lt. Col. Laurie Burnett, the creative brains behind the fictional escape room. “What better scenario than working together to do what we do best, which is save lives.”

With a time limit of 30 minutes and scenario information limited to key words such as Ebola, coma, spores and cancer, the teams had to find eight clues within the journal to save the patient. Each clue corresponded to a silver metal disk that was in their operating area or on the patient.

There was a letter on each disk, accompanied by a number that represented numerical placement. There were two key legends in her journal that provided the necessary codes to decipher the key to her cure. To get the clues, participants had to read her journal together or the clues wouldn’t make sense.

For example, the patient had detailed by color the specific amounts of Skittles she ate. When the clues are added, Burnett said, they spelled “Mo U Th” on the periodic table. This directed participants to the patient’s mouth where they discovered a disk illustrated with the Braille letter K and the number 8.

“The escape room is a perfect example of working together,” said Col. Kimberly Geslak, deputy commander for Inpatient Services, who partnered with Col. Karin Nicholson, deputy commander for Medical Services. “I was able to take pieces of words and get the word, but she was really good at deciding how to find the clues.”

Because she was in a coma, team members at first focused on diagnosing her illness.

“We thought this was a disease process because we decided she was jaundiced and nauseated,” Geslak said, which directed her to the patient’s IV bag. “She needed infusion, so I looked around the IV bag and found a clue.”

Although Geslak had participated in other escape rooms, none were medically related.

“I thought it was very challenging,” she said, admitting that Nicholson was her “ace in the hole” because she knew how many black and white keys were on the piano. “If it had just been me, I would have quit early on. It just shows you can accomplish more by working together as a team.”

The champion team, which included members Karen Rutledge, Nancy Blas, Jyateia Fault, Rebecca Bermudez, Danielle Fulkerson and Sgt. 1st Class Justyn Bearden, saved the patient in a record time of 16 minutes and 22 seconds.

Time was a problem for Seguin’s team as they nearly short-circuited their patient’s life.

“We only had a few seconds to spare,” said team member, Maj. Anne Daniele, chief, Maternal Child Health Unit.

Regardless, Daniele said it was still fun and built comradery and teamwork.

“It capitalized on our nursing strengths by forcing us to creatively think and collaborate as a team,” said Daniele. “This all enhances our problem-solving skills, which directly correlates to our nursing readiness.”

It also builds resilience, added Seguin, who is chief nurse for the Mother Baby Unit.

“Being in an environment where you are able to come together as a team improves your confidence and makes you feel good knowing you’re never alone,” she said.

Bennett, who is a nurse practitioner at Russell Collier Medical Home, monitored and graded the team.

“They were all impressive,” said Bennett, adding that everyone has a unique perspective of words, sounds and images. “It just proves that every person is vital to the success of patient outcomes. By taking the best of each of us and putting it together, it brings out the best outcome.”

Besides the escape room, CRDAMC nurses celebrated the week with various activities, including a week-long 855-mile Walk Across Texas event that turned into a Walk Across the United States marathon when the 250 participants garnered 10,971 miles, enough steps to walk across the United States four times.

Additionally, CRDAMC’s nurses bestowed Nurse of the Year honors to Medic, Pvt. Michael Gell; Licensed Vocational Nurses, Kiki Williams (civilian) and Spc. Ryan Slusher (military); Advanced Practice, Maj. Teresa Timms; and Registered Nurses, Kendall Ruddock (civilian) and 2nd Lt Delany Fishman (military). Toko Armstrong was also recognized as the quarterly recipient for the DAISY Award for Extraordinary Nurses. All were recognized for their demonstrated excellence in nursing practice, impact to patients, professional growth, exceptional patient experience and contributions to morale and the work environment.

“We are a nursing team of 1,000 strong here at CRDAMC,” said Col. Jennifer Robison, chief nursing officer, about the makeup of the CRDAMC nursing team that ranges from medics and registered nurses to licensed vocational nurses and advanced nursing. “This inter-dependence and collaborative foundation is how we’re trained because it takes our whole team to provide care to our service members, our retirees and our Family members.”