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 that 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.