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Stay Humble: Life as a Pediatric Nurse

Nov 14, 2017
Sarah Gray

I’m a pediatric nurse. Which means I get to play with a ton of cute kids, wear brightly colored scrubs, play bingo on Thursdays, apply cartoon Bandaids, cuddle babies, and dole out lollipops.

But only sometimes.

I also have to do things to kids that terrify them. I have to poke them with needles to draw blood or put in IVs. I have to hold them down to force medicine into their mouths, and use scary, loud equipment to suction boogers from their little noses. Sometimes I have to do all of these things while wearing weird masks or a scary suit to protect against the spread of infections.

I’ve become a master of holding down a wiggling, terrified child. I have to restrain myself from repeating “sorry” a million times a day (because Child Life Specialists have explained the psychological effect of what we do). I know all too well how sticky medicine can be when spit on your face. I’m a master distractor, swaddler, and stand-in parent. I become a ninja on nightshift or when needing to obtain a blood pressure or axillary temperature without waking a child.

pediatric nurses

I disrupt nearly everything that is comfortable to them.

So it probably isn’t surprising then to hear that kids typically hate me.

Frankly, some cry any time they see my bright blue scrubs.

I’m not particularly proud of these skills and definitely don’t enjoy them, but I am grateful that my job requires them. I make a conscious effort not to become “hardened” by the need to do them day in and day out. I am committed to truly processing these experiences because of their significance for others, and in turn, for myself.

Because a typical day at work for me is usually the worst day of someone else’s life.

The presence and involvement of family in pediatrics is complex. Ratios within pediatrics are fortunately tighter than in adult settings, typically 1-4 pediatric patients per nurse.But most children comes with loved ones that need to be accounted for in our care as well.

It is so essential and truly ideal to have families present and actively involved. Parents’ knowledge of their children has no boundaries. They advocate for them, protect them, and love them. We look to parents to translate, decipher, and explain children’s actions, words, and habits.

Parents’ active involvement can also make our job very difficult. But any time I even begin to think about categorizing parents as ‘difficult’, I stop and remind myself that I would probably be the same way. I’m not a parent, but I’m sure having a sick child is terrifying and beyond stressful. Days spent with their child in the hospital are probably some of the worst days of their entire lives. And I’m sure it takes a great deal of effort and patience to trust a complete stranger with the health and life of the most important thing in your life.

Yet, as nurses we tend to take this for granted. Not every child is that fortunate. It’s not uncommon for rooms with cribs to be void of any familial presence. And in those cases, us nurses take on that role even more so.

I love kids and I love what I do. What I might love most about my job (other than being the best form of birth control out there) is that it never ceases to humble me. Which permeates through every other aspect of my life.

“What I might love most about my job is that it never ceases to humble me.”

It’s impossible not to feel grateful as a pediatric nurse.

On the most basic level, I am so fortunate that I was born healthy and continue to be healthy. I struck gold being born to two loving, well-educated parents and grew up with five (of the most annoying) fun, supportive, and challenging siblings. I was fed, clothed, kissed, educated, vaccinated, and nurtured. Yes, I did wear hand-me-downs on the regular, Dad kept the house stocked with Oreos and Mom was quite easy to coerce into making a pit stop at McDonald’s fairly regularly. But nursing consistently reminds me of the important of easy-to-overlook, seemingly simple aspects of my life that I may otherwise not think twice about.

hospital gratitude tree

On a deeper level, it’s pretty amazing that I get paid to do what I do.  It’s fulfilling, challenging, and fun. My job makes me a better human being. They say pediatric nurses are special people, but I really wonder about the chicken-or-the egg theory here. I have the privilege to directly affect someone’s life in a very real way, every shift. Caring for a pediatric patient means being able to care for an entire family, which allows me to truly develop relationships and understand my patients so complexly. There are so many intimate moments in the hospital with moms, dads, grandparents, and siblings. I can’t even explain how appreciated I have felt just for holding a baby so a mom can shower, bringing an extra warm blanket, or providing a hug or cup of coffee. But that’s just doing my job.

Because of my job, I am more patient, kind, empathetic, lighthearted, and open-minded (although don’t confirm this with my husband upon me arriving home after a typical shift!).

Don’t get me wrong, it’s the norm for me to feel exhausted, frustrated, relieved, famished, and grossly dirty after a shift. But it’s also equally as common for me to feel grateful, appreciated, impactful, and accomplished. It doesn’t matter how long, hard, or bad a shift was if I’m feeling one of those as I’m walking out the door at the end of the day.

As Lee Ann Womack encourages, my “job” enables me to “still feel small when I stand beside the ocean.”

And those are things that all the money in the world can’t buy.