Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Nurses: care providers, advocates, and critical medical professionals

Each day and night of Chris' 117-day stay in the Legacy Emanuel NICU, we would ring the bell outside of the unit and wait for the secretary to buzz us through. During Chris' earliest and sickest days, the secretary would call his bedside nurse to make sure it was okay for us to come in...and then the secretary would let us know who the nurse was for that 12-hour shift.

So often, the name of Chris' nurse would indicate how our visit would proceed. Most of the time, we would be relieved to hear the name of a a familiar, friendly nurse, but other times we were less thrilled to learn who was taking care of our fragile baby. We especially developed a fondness for many of the nurses on Level 3 (the area for the most critically ill babies, who have 1:1 or 1:2 nursing care), during Chris' extremely serious, life-threatening crises. (During the first several weeks, each day was a crisis!)

Since this week is National Nurses Week, I want to acknowledge some of the wonderful nurses who have cared for me and my family. People who are attracted to nursing as a profession must have a multitude of attributes: the strength to clean up bodily fluids and tolerate bad smells without batting an eyelid; a true desire to take care of people; outstanding analytical skills and memory; ability to solve problems in a flash; intelligence, intuition, and empathy; and advocacy skills, just to name a few.

Nothing makes you appreciate a fantastic nurse more than having a less-effective nurse. I could give you an earful of anecdotes. Being an NICU nurse is especially difficult, because not only are you caring for critically ill, often tiny newborns whose life and death depend on your every move, but you also have to care for the parents at the same time...who are terrified for their baby. I'm not sure why, but the "less-effective" nurses pushed my buttons way more than they did Mike's. Maybe it's a mama thing.

I remember the night of one of Chris' most terrifying health crises, after a day in which we were told he would probably die of a brain injury. After one of our beloved regular nurses went off shift that day (after seeing us through one of the worst days of our lives), a new-to-us night nurse took over. I did not like her at all. She was rough and graceless, and I did not have any faith in her technical skills. She also preached at us about the high amounts of morphine Chris was on and shared her opinion that he was going to become a morphine addict. My diplomat of a husband won this nurse over with his charm, as he is wont to do. I did not even make an attempt. Fortunately Chris survived the night, and we had her only a few times more. I never grew to like her.

(I also had extreme reactions, both positive and negative, to my L&D and postpartum nurses.)

We developed such bonds with so many of our NICU nurses, especially the ones who we had over and over and who requested to be Chris' nurses: Karen, Lorraine, Kristin, Nan, Mary, Marcia, Donna, and so many others. We invited many of them to Chris' baptism and gave them nametags with angel stickers, because they were truly our angels.

They found ways to create little rituals for us. When one nurse decided to give Chris his very first bath 1 hour before she knew we would arrive (and announced this to us when we got there!), many of our nurse-friends helped us bathe him again the next day, and they made it a truly special experience.

When one distracted, disengaged specialist left after examining Chris, his nurse confessed that she wanted to "deck him" (which warmed our hearts!).

When Chris faced his very first surgery and I was terrified, his nurse took me into a conference room and said just the right thing to calm me down.

When we were told that be irreparably brain damaged, one of our very favorite nurses, Karen, was right there by our sides.

When Chris moved from Level 3 to Level 2, his most-regular night nurse came to visit him and left him his first beanie baby (this was back before anyone hardly knew what beanie babies were).

Our nurses pushed for us to do kangaroo care, to begin holding Chris more often (when he was 6 weeks old, we got to start holding him only once a day), to do more of his care, to resist the neonatologists' desire to give him a gastrostromy-tube, to do more nursing...it goes on and on. Those nurses got us through the worst experience of our lives.

Chris on the day of his discharge, with his last NICU nurse, Marcia
I would be remiss not to mention our dear friend Annette, who was there with Mike at Emanuel right after Chris was born and supported all of us through the NICU experience (and afterward). She was working as a parish nurse in the hospital at the time, and we will never forget her ministry to us as well as her enduring friendship over the years. She is--and always will be--one of our family's angels and favorite people.

When our dear friends (through the NICU Family Advisory Board) lost their beautiful son Zacary one evening and had no family or friends with them in the pediatric ICU, the NICU nurses took it upon themselves to call us at home at 3:00 a.m. to tell us Zacary had died, so we could go give Laurie and Derek some support. The nurses continued to minister to them--and advocate for them--long after their son had left the NICU.

Take this moment to tell the nurses in your life how amazing they are and how much you appreciate them! I know we honestly could not have survived the most harrowing experience of our lives without them.

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