It's January 2004, I'm standing in a hallway at 8 p.m. outside of my six-week-old son's hospital room in the Pediatric ICU (PICU) while doctors and nurses try to find a vein for blood tests. It's been a brutal afternoon so far. I've been at the hospital since around 2 p.m. after driving frantically from my home in Connecticut with my 4-year-old and one-and-a-half-year-old because my newborn son, who had just recently been released from the Neonatal ICU (NICU), looked grey. He had become weaker as the day progressed and I knew there was something very wrong. His coughing, although weak, was thick, like he was choking. The medical staff have now been trying to find a vein unsuccessfully in his feet, arms and wrists off and on for several hours. It's not easy to find a vein on a 6-pound baby, and they have taken a few breaks so that he is not being tortured.
As the nurses hold him down for another attempt and he screams with each poking, they ask me if I'd like to leave the room, to which I reply, 'No I need him to know I am here." Finally, they are able to draw the blood they need to do tests that will eventually rule out different viruses. I then wait in the hallway as his throat is suctioned, feeding tube resinserted, monitors are set and at around midnight he has successfully been readmitted to the hospital that I had just checked him out of just two weeks before. I settle in to the chair next to his bed to listen to him breath laboriously in and out while my husband drives home with my two other sons.
The night nurse brings me a thin pillow and blanket for the night. While my son is fighting for strength, just down the hallway is a mother moaning in pain as her child has either passed away or is in a dire place. I know this because even though I am only four years into my journey as my children's health advocate, it is the sound of deep grief that is unique and unmistakable. The nurses don't tell her to be quiet, but after respecting her space, they bring her to another room to grieve. In and out nurses on the floor continue to tend to their patients, take vitals and speak with parents like me who are in ICU for the night. The next day, while I wait for morning rounds, my infant son's roommate is admitted to our room. Unlike the NICU, which is only for newborn children, the PICU has children of all ages, and a girl approximately 14 years old is wheeled into the room.
Later in the day as I keep vigil next to my child, I listen as our room nurse sits down with the 14-year-old's mother to tell her that her child will be admitted later in the day to the psych ward on another floor. This child has tried to commit suicide and apparently it is not the first time. The nurse is patient as she explains to the mother that she cannot visit the girl on the psych floor because the state is stepping in to help her. I look over at my child and wonder how hers has gotten to that point of sadness. I wonder how the nurse feels, having to deliver this confusing news to the mother who is the only one who comes to visit the child.
This week is National Nurses Week (May 6-12), it has gone relatively unnoticed in the media partly because it has been an incredibly busy news cycle, but really I must wonder why so many of the heroic stories about nursing were not featured every day in our newspapers and morning television. My own life is so intertwined with nurses that I personally admire and respect them more than I could possibly convey in one short blog post. The 24-hour snippet in this piece I have just described is just one of a 1,000 stories I have from the numerous interactions I have had with nurses over the last 14 years.
Don't get me wrong, I've had my Shirley MacLaine moments -- a la "get my daughter the medicine!" from the film Terms of Endearment -- and if someone is not doing their job and my child is suffering, I will deal with it. But truly, nurses are everyday heroes that provide the round-the-clock care and comfort that so many patients need. Whether it is for the elderly, the new born or the newly injured, nurses -- male and female -- deserve our highest respect for their enormous contribution to society. Not to be unnoticed as well is the fact that nurses are the ones who often take verbal abuse that patients and families are afraid to give to doctors but dole out freely to the attending nurse. So next time you feel like lecturing them, maybe take a step back. I have sat and listened as an elderly patient on dialysis berated her nurse, and asked my own nurse, "How can she listen to those insults?" to which I was calmly told, "Oh she doesn't know what she's saying." Nurses hold patients' hands, hug them, sometimes cry with them or tell them to hang in there when it may seem no one understands them. They share your joy and happiness with smiles and encouragement. Good Morning America's Robin Roberts recently said during her recovery she felt she was slipping away when she heard her nurse calling her name and telling her to come back.
Take a moment and thank a nurse this week or any week. Send a thank-you note or a gift to them after you leave the hospital; tell them how important their work is. Maybe you think I'm saying this because I've had so much experience with this, which is true enough, but someday, somewhere a nurse is going to help you or someone you love and you will be glad you did it. Consider the patience it requires to deal with irrational or grieving family members. Consider what their day is like versus yours. For my family, I want to give a personal thank you to all the pediatric nurses out there who love and administer to children every day. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Happy Nurses Week.
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