It was a day I greeted with equal parts anticipation and dread. After three long weeks, my babies were being discharged from the NICU.
I was relieved, because being cleared by the neonatologist meant they were okay. It meant they were ready for a world where they weren’t be surrounded by nurses who are ready to step in and help at a moment’s notice.
At the same time, I was terrified, because it meant we wouldn’t be surrounded by nurses. For the first 22 days of my kids’ lives, there was always someone ready to step in if a monitor beeped or a hungry baby cried. Now, I’d be the one in charge, and I was hit by a wave of anxiety that nearly knocked me over.
That’s when Carole, one of the nurses I’d come to know very well, brought me in for a hug and said, “You’re going to be fine. Come visit us.” And then, noticing my expression, she added, “You have our number — if you have any questions, call us. Any time.”
And I did, a few times. Eventually, I became more comfortable with my pediatrician and started calling her when one of the kids spit up or felt a little warm. But during those first few days, when I desperately needed a safety net, I had one.
It was just one of so many times the NICU nurses went above and beyond during our extended stay at CentraState Medical Center. What amazed me 5 years ago — and continues to today — were the two qualities demonstrated by every nurse I encountered: compassion and the ability to think five steps ahead.
When I say compassion, I’m not just referring to the care they provided for my babies. I’m talking about the care they gave me, whether it was teaching me how to bathe them, asking how I’m holding up, or ordering to go eat lunch. And the ability to anticipate an incident before it happened was simply astounding. Maybe it was a slight irregularity in a tiny heartbeat, or the smallest decrease in a feeding — whatever the case, they knew what needed to be escalated, and what simply needed to be monitored. Even the ‘beeps’ that all sounded the same to me each had a different cadence that nurses were able to detect in a flash.
If it sounds like I’m comparing nurses to super heroes — well, I am. And I’m not the only one. Last week, talk show host Jimmy Kimmel broke out of character and related a recent terrifying experience. His newborn son had to undergo open-heart surgery after a nurse detected an abnormality and immediately notified the physician. Kimmel expressed his thanks in an emotional monologue, during which he mentioned the staffers by name and brought tears to the eyes of all parents, especially those of us whose children had challenges early in life.
For me, it hit close to home.
In our case, it was Eileen who discovered a murmur in my daughter’s heart, and stood next to me during the echocardiogram. Thankfully, it didn’t appear to be problematic, and all we needed to do was schedule a follow-up.
But the experience was an eye-opener. I’ve always held nurses in high regard — having both an aunt and mother-in-law who walked those shoes — but I had no idea how much went into the role that so many of us take for granted. In a way, nurses are like car insurance: you have no idea how important they are until you need them.
And so, as we observe National Nurses Week, take a moment to acknowledge all that these incredible people to do help patients and support their colleagues, and thank them, whether than means buying breakfast one day, organizing an event, or talking a walk in their shoes (as Sue Schade recently did) to gain a deeper understanding of what they do. But, as Schade pointed out, nursing appreciation shouldn’t be an annual event; it needs to happen every day.
For once, we need to be the ones to go above and beyond.