My constant hope for the pediatric patients I care for is that they leave after discharge and return for a visit with birthdays past, school years under their belts, and inches taller than when I last saw them. It’s been twelve months in the hospital world for me. In that time, inevitably, some of these patients didn’t ever get to go home, or ever return for a visit, because they have passed away.
To honor all of the patients who have passed away each year, the cardiac service line hosts a remembrance ceremony for the families who have lost their children. I was approached by our chaplain and asked to speak at the upcoming ceremony. Immediately I was overwhelmed with feelings of gratitude, honor, shock and disbelief.
How could I, just a nurse, have anything meaningful enough to say to these parents who have lost their children to a congenital heart defect? It seemed to me like the key speaker should be a surgeon who operated on the child, or the cardiologist who medically managed their care up until the end, or even the floor manager who overseas all functionality on the unit.
But no. They asked me, just the nurse. I have been racking my brain in an effort to figure out exactly what I can say to these parents who have been mourning the death of their child, a pain that I cannot even fathom. But as I looked over the list of children that had passed away in the last twelve months, recognizing many of the names, my feelings about speaking at the ceremony quickly turned from terror to thanks.
I began to reflect on the times I had taken care of these patients, some very near to the end of their life. One name I encountered is the name of a boy whose picture to this day is the background on my phone. A boy whom I still think about every day of my life, although he passed away nine months ago. A boy who has impacted my life perhaps more than anybody has, ever. And then it came to me: People tell me all the time how honorable they think it is that I am a nurse, and how much of an impact I must make on my patient’s life. The reality of it is, these children impact my life more than I could have ever imagined prior to going into nursing.
I’m not going to tell the parents what it’s like to be a nurse or what it’s like to care for a child at the end of their life. I’m going to thank the parents for allowing me to care for their child, and tell them how appreciative I am of everything their child did for me. I’m realizing now that perhaps the surgeon wouldn’t be able to say the same thing, nor would the cardiologist.
I was the one at the bedside playing cards with the child and listening to his plans for after he got his new heart. I was the one at the bedside rocking the baby when mom needed just an hour to sleep because she had been up with him all night. I was the one administering pain medications when the child’s pain was unbearable. I’m no longer “just a nurse” but a thankful individual for the valuable time I got to spend with these children, and I can’t wait to share that.
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