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The red headed step children

As the dust settles and I am finally able to come up for fresh air, I have been reflecting on the past months of 2020. I am so proud of my PICU crew in ways that no one can understand. It has always been the PICU staff that seems to be forgotten, yet expected so much of. Our doctors, our nurses, our PCTs. And maybe that’s because most don’t need the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit except for the unfortunate few children. Our significance seems to not be known. Yes, we are the red headed step children in the very sense of that saying. But let me tell you about the red headed step children, my PICU crew. They are the bravest, the most compassionate, and beyond extraordinary. They are the ones that step up and step forward. And this goes to all the PICU nurses I work with and have worked with in the past. They are the first ones that volunteer and answer the call. They are the ones that laugh even when their hearts ache. The ones that bring compassion every where they go. Taking care of critically ill children is vastly different than caring for critically ill adults, and my crew changed the face of the pandemic of 2020.

Lynn, you by far are one of the bravest souls I know. As soon as the world wide pandemic was declared, you were the very first person in the Women and Children’s division to volunteer to care for the criticality ill COVID patients in the adult ICU. I don’t think you get the recognition you deserve. You’re the definition of a nurse and a role model we look up to. You stepped up to serve in a war zone of a microscopic enemy. And through the past months, you encouraged each of us as we have been out of our comfort zones. You brought us together, to support one another and talk us through our rough shifts. I’ll forever be grateful for our friendship and your leadership.

Every single shift in the adult ICU was hard. I was out of my realm, as were all of you. I don’t know how the 12 hour shift passed. I questioned myself every morning, did I do the best I could for my patients? Was I everything they needed? I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel like a failure most days. We saw death way too frequently. I’m sure each of us felt some of that as we were far beyond our comfort zones.

I’d walk out the hospital doors, take a deep breath in as tears trickled down. Sometimes the very people you work with become your family. Berenice and Kristina, I’ll always remember the days we sat in the parking lot and cried together. I will never forget the look of pain in your eyes as you have understood my pain.

The pandemic took from us a sense of community, and things like a simple hug is deemed dangerous. As I have battled weeks of loneliness, I’ll always remember your embrace Stacy. It came at a time when I was at my lowest, providing a sense of love and safety.

But because we understood the value of human empathy and creative outreach, we have brought something into the adult ICU COVID world.

We sat for hours in our PPE while our patients were dying, speaking words they would hold until their very last breath. We spent hours FaceTiming families, so they could see their loved ones and know they are in the best of care, offering words of hope even when we our selves could hardly breathe. We held their hand while they feared their fate during procedures and intubations. We have found ways to be innovative to encourage our patients to lay prone in hopes of avoiding being intubated, with simple things such as finding ways for them to access their phones as they lay for hours-days-weeks-months alone with no human contact besides us. And for those that had to be trached, a simple flower to brighten their day and bring a smile to their face.

Reagan– you by far are one of the most kindest individuals I know. I notice how genuinely happy you are for everyone you call your friend. There is pure innocence in your heart as there is no ounce of hate in it. I can’t believe how many people through the entire hospital have declared, “PICU staff is the kindest and funniest group”. Our hearts do not go unnoticed. And because of that, Harold, no one has the heart to steal you from your new PICU family! Sigh of relief!

Well every now and then, we need to laugh. Laughter has honestly been the best medicine in a time of so many unknowns, exhaustion and loneliness. You have been a true gift to each of us Christine. I have no idea how you we have the ability to find something funny in all of life’s circumstances but because of that we have truly laughed so hard. Together, we danced and sang our nights away and oddly we all found joy in scaring each other and some of the adult ICU nurses. And if that wasn’t enough, we could count on Kristina to flash us!

Our teamwork is a model of excellence as we never let each other or others we work with drown alone in a bad shift. We knew all would be okay when we saw our fellow PICU nurses staffed on the same unit. To the hardest working girls I know, Kaitlyn and Adriana, you just get things done before its’ even asked. I don’t think you get enough credit for all the ways you go above and beyond, and sometimes it’s taken advantage of. Because you see the world with different eyes, your light shines in ways that you don’t even know.

Dear PICU nurses everywhere, I admire your humility. I will speak up and tell the world of the great and selfless acts of your bravery. The truth is we make it through because we have each other to lean on. We look out for each other. This is a tiny fragment of your greatness. And you deserve more than the words I can write. It has been a challenging and trying time as breath is stolen from the vulnerable and comfort is highjacked from the hurting.

Dear PICU nurses, you brought compassion with you to a foreign circumstance. You are the unrecognized, the forgotten, the under appreciated but you somehow changed the face of the pandemic and now we are left with wounds and scars that need substantial healing, ones that only we can understand. And still, you will find us smiling for you.

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