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Thank you for the memories

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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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Nicole Lehr

Nicole Lehr is a pediatric nurse. She can be described in three adjectives: content, thankful and fortunate. All credit for the aforementioned description can be given to the love she has for her profession as an RN. She graduated from University of Florida with her Bachelor’s in Nursing and moved to Atlanta to work at the Cardiac Stepdown Unit at Children’s — her dream job.
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7 Responses to Thank you for the memories

  1. Ranay

    Nurses are indeed angels! & Thank you!

  2. cindi

    I have been an RN for 37 years and I love my profession as much today as the day I started. I recently found a paper I wrote my senior year in nursing school about what I wanted to give to my career. It was still so true that I actually could have written it yesterday. Granted I don’t bounce back from working an all night call shift the way I used to, but never the less I still love the job.

  3. Robin Colegrove

    I have only been an RN for about 3 years but, this story touched me profoundly. I have not have to sit at the bedside of a dying child but, I have sat and held the hand of many dying adults. I feel it is easier helping the dying than it is helping their surviving loved ones. It pulls at my heart everytime one of them says, “thank you for being there for us and making it easier by walking us through their dying.” I always worry I will say the wronge thing but, so far, with the help and guidense of God, I believe I have done the right thing for each person. Everyone that has ever been one of My patients has helped make me the person and nurse that I am today. I look forward to everyday at work and at home.

  4. Renea

    I have been a nurse for 2 years now and I have not had a patient to die in my care yet. I know that the time will come. I want to say thank you to the ones who commented and to you, Nicole, for all that you have said. I want to say God Bless you, Nicole! You do something that I don’t think my heart will let me do and that is work with dying pediatric patients. I know that you will do well with your speech!

  5. Nicole Lehr Scrubs Blogger

    @ Ranay- No, thank YOU.
    @ cindi- What a blessing to find that paper! We do have great jobs.
    @ Robin- Your patients and their families are very lucky to have you…
    @ Renea- The beauty of what I do is not only being there for those that need me at the end, but seeing the ones who were close to the end at one point now thriving and growing into young adults. That’s what keeps me going. Thank you for your kind words, and the speech went well :)

  6. chocolakat Student

    I love your article except for the part when you say “I am just a nurse”. Why do nurses say “Iam just a nurse”? Nurses are a large part of the interdiscipilnary team at every hospital and/or clinic in the nation. Why would they want a nurse to give a speech to the families who have lost a love one? Probably because nurses spend more time with the patient and their family members than anyone else. You said it yourself in your article. We are the ones playing cards with the patients, talking to them about life. We are there for the ups and the downs of our patients. Without nurses how would a doctor be current on the progress of their patients? Nurses are the ones who call the doctors with these updates. Nurses educate their patients and families on their disorders and where to go for additional support. I am a student nurse and I get this. It will be great when other nurses join the bandwagon. Every patient that I’ve encountered during my clinical rotations have touch me and I am thankful for that too.

  7. Neill RN

    Nicole,
    I hope you don’t mind, but I reposted your entire story on facebook under my timeline with a preemptory paragragh to explain why I’m still a nurse after 30 years. Thought it was a wonderful story and should be shared. Thanks for sharing it with us. I’m on facebook as Neill Everitt III if you wish to check it out, but I copied it directly and didn’t change a word….didn’t need to.