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Nurse and Patient

Nursing graduates share significant clinical experiences

The May 2013 Nursing graduates were instructed by their professors to write about a significant moment during their clinical rotations this past academic year. What came from that assignment is a compilation of touching moments between a nurse and his or her patient that give a glimpse into the compassion and devotion nurses provide their patients every day.

Professor Joan Timalonis writes, “these exemplar stories are a testimony to this courageous and healing spirit of Nursing. They reveal the calming presence you provided to families and their loved ones.”

These are the stories written by the May 2013 nursing graduates.

*please note that the names of all patients have been changed for confidentiality.

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by Valarie Cuth

It was September 9 of 2011, my favorite month of the year. However, this September would be life changing for me. I knew I was in for a real challenge, since it was the start of my Pediatrics clinical rotation, which also meant accepting that I would be caring for sick children, my biggest weakness. I tell this story frequently because it is the one experience that I know changed me forever. It was the experience that I knew I truly made a difference in a patient’s life, and it was the day I learned my capabilities as a nurse.

My first day on the unit I was assigned one newborn, a four-month old baby boy admitted through the emergency department (ED) the day prior. His name is Liam*, and he was the most beautiful baby boy I had ever seen. He had huge bright blue eyes and a head full of blonde hair. I was instantly attached. The first time I held him, we bonded and he showed me the most adorable smile. But he was so sick and it was heart breaking.

His mother, Jenn, had brought him to the ED September 8 complaining that the baby would not stop coughing, he was vomiting and lethargic. She said the coughing was so bad at times that he would appear to stop breathing or it would cause him to vomit. It had been “going on for over two weeks” Jenn stated.

After many tests, Liam was diagnosed with Pertussis, also known as whooping cough. When the ED nurse came to notify Jenn of his diagnosis and admittance, she was no longer in Liam’s room and the nurse was unable to locate her. After calling emergency contacts, the ED nurse reached Liam’s grandmother. She came to meet her grandson in the ED prior to his transport to the pediatric unit. Just before his transfer, and several hours later, Jenn returned, appearing disheveled, slurring her words and she was slightly unsteady on her feet. Because of her appearance, social services were contacted by the ED nurse for consult. Social services made the decision that the mother had to be supervised when visiting with her son.

After hearing Liam’s story, I went into his room to check on him; he looked at me with those blue eyes and I picked him up and said “I promise I will do all that I can while I am with you to make you feel better.” That first time I entered Liam’s room, he was apprehensive to having an unfamiliar face pick him up and coddle him. It was evident that Liam longed to be held by the way he became so attached and would reach for me if I was in the room. I began to learn how neglected of love and affection this baby was. The next three scheduled clinical days, I was assigned to Liam. We had become quite attached, and I had become protective of him. Liam had no visitors for first three days that I was with him. Because his orders were fairly routine, I was able to spend more time in the day feeding, changing, and playing with him.

I met Jenn on my fourth day; she had spent the night and was relieved when I came in the room. She appeared anxious to leave and told me she was “going to smoke and get breakfast.” I was busy throughout the day and lost track of time until I went on my break. I saw Jenn sitting in the family lounge and told her I was leaving for lunch. Before I left, Jenn asked if she could hold Liam to “make him stop crying.” I agreed, but reminded her that the blinds on Liam’s door had to remain open, as per Social Services request. When I returned, I found the blinds closed and Jenn asleep with baby Liam in a position that put him at risk for suffocation. I immediately removed him from her arms and notified the nurse. Social services were contacted. When they arrived, Jenn was difficult to arouse; there was concern that she might be intoxicated.

Liam’s brother and sister had been removed from their parents’ home and were residing with an aunt. After much persistence from the primary nurse and I, social services contacted Child Protective Services (CPS) to have Liam removed from the home. We spoke with the grandparents, and they agreed to take him. I left that clinical day feeling nervous, but relieved. This was all short lived. I returned on the next clinical day to find Liam gone. I spoke with the nurse and asked her what came of the situation. She stated “social services were unable to make arrangements with the grandparents and were unable to convince CPS that Liam should be removed from the home and placed into foster care. Liam was discharged home with his mother and father.”

I knew that over the short four days that I spent with Liam, I was making a difference in his life, but little did he know how much of a difference he made in mine. I realized through this experience that I had the power to make a person smile and feel loved. I love and care for all children and will do all in my power to help them, but I have a tendency to be a “helper nurse,” as described by Patricia Benner, and become too involved in these children’s cases (Benner, 2001, p. 163). This helped me realize that pediatric nursing would be too emotionally draining for me.

Several competencies of The Helping Role, the first domain discussed in the book, From Novice to Expert, written by Patricia Benner, are evident in my care of Liam. I frequently reached out to hold, swaddle and play with him, to comfort him and show him love and affection; an excellent example of “Providing Comfort and Communication through Touch (Benner, 2001, p. 63).” I provided a comforting face to look at in those four days, assisting in emotional support as seen in “Presencing: Being with a Patient(Benner, 2001, p. 57).” I was a strong advocate for Liam, as seen by my determination in keeping him safe, as noted in Benner’s “Excellence and Power in Clinical Nursing Practice (Benner, 2001, p. 207).” I began my pediatrics rotation apprehensively, knowing that I would be facing one of my biggest fears, but after caring for Liam, he reminded me of why I went into nursing and that I have the power to change someone’s life, no matter how young.