Nursery School

It wasn’t until I was on the other side of the healthcare system that I allowed myself to be vulnerable in front of a nurse.  Typically as a resident, I strove to earn nurses’ respect with my clinical competency and polite manners, peppered with a little deference.  Most nurses have been doing their jobs for years when I walked onto their units for a few weeks and tried to pretend that I knew what I was doing.   Regardless, I would never have admitted to any of these nurses that I was insecure with my own station, until N was in the NICU.  For the first 10 days of his life, the day and night shift nurses of the NICU were his second moms.  They not only helped change, feed, burp, and bathe him, but they taught me these basics of infant care, at which most teenage girls who babysit are proficient.  They didn’t ask or care if I already knew how to do these things because, although they knew I was a resident, they also knew thatImage I was a first-time mom.  They assumed that I either had no clue or that their way was better and they were right on both accounts.

While the Neonatologists that took care of N were amazing and still inspire awe in me, the nurses were the ones who cared for my spirit.  When I cried, they put up a privacy screen.  When I looked frightened, they gave me reassurance.  When I needed sleep, they insisted upon it.  And when I needed the wisdom of someone who had gone through this a million times before, they gave it.  Those 10 days were the most intensive parenting class my husband and I could have asked for and at the end of it we wondered how other parents were able to be discharged after only 2-3 days in the hospital.  When one of our favorite nurses walked us to the front door of the hospital on Day 11, we felt well equipped with all of the tools she had given us.

Months later at a NICU reunion, we eagerly ran around looking for each of N’s nurses.  The few we found seemed excited to see him, but likely didn’t actually remember his short and relatively uneventful 10 day stay despite the enormous impression it made on us.  As a physician, this experience taught me much about the impact that a good nurse makes on a family.  The skills these nurses taught us were as vital as the medical treatment he was prescribed.  As a mom, I am grateful that his nurses allowed me to be vulnerable and to be that first-time mom and not a pediatric resident.

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9 Comments

  1. Thank you Katie, so wonderful of you to give credit where credit is due, so often people neglect to mention nurses and their importance to the well being of the patient. They truly are angels.

  2. When I was in nursing school, my professor talked about “the view from the pillow” and how important it is to see the healthcare experience from the other side. Being a patient (at 19 I had my thyroid removed) taught me to be a better, more empathetic nurse than any top notch education could have and I’m sure your experience will make you a better healthcare provider. Love your blog!!

    1. Thanks! I appreciate your comments, as a nurse and a mommy! I like your professor’s “view from the pillow” teaching. Being a patient definitely gives healthcare providers a whole new perspective! I was hospitalized as a child and that’s why I decided to become a pediatrician.

  3. I’m so glad you had a positive experience with your NICU nurses. When I was an oncology/surgical inpatient nurse, as much as bedside care was often so exhausting, it was uplifting to always have the opportunity to make it not about the task at hand but about the person and the family you are doing it for. It feels like a privilege to move within these intimate spaces with families and their loved ones. Even though to many it may seem like the nurse is the one giving care, you always receive something back. There is something to be learned or understood about even the most difficult of patients or situations.

    Caring for the ill in a holistic way is also a poignant reminder that It could be YOUR mother, grandmother/father etc needing care. There is always a reason to give as freely as you possibly can of yourself, even when you don’t think you have much left in you. Witnessing this intimacy and constant presence nurses had with families back in college when I volunteered in a pediatric ward played a major part in convincing me to go into nursing rather than doctoring.

    It cracks me up that you admit you tried not to show your ‘green’ to nurses as a resident–I’m sure they knew anyway! 🙂 Although I’m sure you were NOT one of the cocky, belligerent ones (now we really don’t like those, and naturally will not go out of our way to be helpful in that case!)

    1. Lauren and Rae, I appreciate your responses as nurses! @Rae– I’m not going to lie that all nurse-resident relationships are great. But no, I was never cocky or belligerent, I promise! Nurses are a doctor’s best ally.

      1. Yup I agree with you, not all md-rn relationships are great–but when they are, better patient care happens and people are generally much happier! For my part I mostly really enjoyed working with residents, with just occasional exceptions.

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