Tuesday, May 12, 2015

My journey through nursing

It's funny, the looks that I get and the things that people say when I tell them that I work in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. Often there is a look of shock or horror along with "I don't know how you could possibly to do that" (it's my job) or "That must be terrible" (I wouldn't do it if it was terrible all of the time) or my favorite "I just can't stand to see kids hurt" (it's not my favorite thing either, but there is lots of healing going on too). I understand that nursing can be a hard profession to fathom, especially for those who faint at the sight of blood or hate invading other's personal space. Working with sick babies and children can seem like a completely foreign concept for many.

At some point in high school I decided to become a nurse. I had wanted to be a vet but I watch our vet do something to a dog's anal glands and I was out! No thanks! It's quite ironic considering some of the not so charming aspects of nursing. I went to college, worked for a year in adult critical care and then became a travel nurse. For those who don't know, this is truly the best gig in town. Travel nurses go to a different city of their choosing for thirteen weeks and her/his company puts them up in a furnished apartment. If they like it they might stay longer, if not they move on, no commitment. I was in my early 20's and had lived in Ohio my whole life and it was one of the best things I've ever done!

Eventually I met Brad, we settled in Virginia and I needed a change of scenery from the adult patient population. I took my first job in pediatrics before we got married and I absolutely loved it! It was a whole new world of nursing that invigorated me. Honestly, though, I think part of what made it work was that I didn't have kids yet. Once I had Sierra things definitely changed. After being back at work for a couple of months we had a 2-year-old boy who had fallen out of a second story window and suffered a severe head injury. I went home that night and cried to Brad that I couldn't do it anymore. It was just too hard. I saw Sierra's face, literally, saw her face, on every single patient. It didn't matter if they were a baby or a teenager. The SIDS babies, the tragic car accidents, the newly diagnosed cancer patients... it felt too close to home. That could be my child, the one who holds my heart, lying in that bed. I could imagine their parent's pain in a way that had not been tangible before I had my own child. It was a whole new perspective that I had a very hard time dealing with. Sweet Brad talked me off my ledge. I'm so glad that he did. I have since left the PICU for a couple of years simply to have more control over my work-life balance, but when I returned to the PICU I absolutely felt like I had come home.

Last year I went to an ELNEC conference (End-of-Life nursing education consortium) where I did a lot of reflecting on my nursing career, the patients that I've taken care of and my relationships with them. I did notice that most of the patients and families that I remembered the minute details about and felt strong connections with were primarily patients that I took care of before I had kids. There have been plenty of families that I’ve taken care of in the last 12 years that I remember and who impacted me, but somewhere along the way I had to figure out how to “leave it at the door” when I left work… at least most of the time. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t happen all of the time. I have the kids that I go home and dream about, the parents that I cry for when I lay in bed, the patients that I get to hug when I’m lucky enough to see them walk back into the unit whole and healthy after they’ve been discharged. There are many, many who have left their mark on my heart and in my memory.

People often give nurses high praise for “being able to do that…”  Honestly, though, I feel incredibly lucky to have this job. I love the patients that I work with and my coworkers are some of the best people around in so many ways. I feel honored to be able to be a part of peoples’ hardest moments and to be able to at least try and make it a little better. It’s humbling to be with a family as their child receives new life or moves out of this one. As challenging as it is to have face hard realities everyday it also makes me completely aware that we cannot take this one life for granted. No one knows how long they will be on this earth so they need to live fully. Every. Single. Day. I hug my kids tighter each night because I see this each day. And while there are days that I leave a little piece of my heart behind at work, there are many days where I get to witness and feel overwhelming love and joy around me. I get to be a part of the celebration of healing and miracles. These are the moments that define why we do what we do.

And that little boy who affected me so much that I almost left pediatrics... check him out here!

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