From The Floor
When My Daughter Became a Patient
Treating others as our own
Being a nurse is often a 24-hour-a-day job. We all know that even after a 12-hour shift, our work doesn’t necessarily end at the front door of our hospital or clinic. However, because we’re so immersed in the profession, it becomes very easy for us to take our own work for granted. Sometimes, it’s only when we have the chance to look at nursing from the outside that we recognize just how significant our “routine” actions can be for patients and their families.
An Unwelcome Hitchhiker
I discovered that firsthand years ago, after I inadvertently exposed my own children to encephalitis. At the time, my family lived at Georgia’s Ft. Benning and I worked as head nurse of the PICU at Columbus Medical Center. Both my older son, Jim, and my older daughter, Patricia, contracted encephalitis due to “hitchhiker” germs I unwittingly brought home with me from work.
Jim showed great improvement after a week or so and was soon back at school, but Patricia’s illness took a different path. She complained of headaches, light sensitivity, a stiff neck and, worryingly, the inability to void. The last symptom made it clear to me that we were dealing with something more serious than a normal childhood ailment. We headed off to the Columbus Medical Center ER, where Patricia was quickly admitted and doctors ordered a spinal tap. My husband and I were sent home to wait.
I knew that in short order, every doctor, intern and nurse in the pediatric unit would be aware that Patricia was my daughter. Although every patient admitted to our hospital could expect the best possible care, when we knew a patient was related to one of our staff, that patient became like our own family.
When I called down to the unit the following day to get the results of my daughter’s spinal tap, one of the pediatric nurses pulled Patricia’s chart and reported that the test results were within normal range. I think the nurse must have sensed that I might not be 100 percent confident in her interpretation because she suggested I come down on my next break to take a look at the results myself.
When I arrived, the nurse on duty recognized me, took a moment to consider the potential repercussions of allowing a nurse from another unit to see a pediatric patient’s chart, gave the chart carousel a quick spin and handed me my daughter’s chart. (Of course, this was well before HIPAA!)
I scanned the chart and looked over the lab results, which validated my concern. Although Patricia’s white blood cell levels were indeed within normal range, her spinal fluid showed an elevation of protein without a corresponding increase in white blood cells. Considering Patricia’s other symptoms, I realized those results could be signs of Guillain-Barré syndrome.
I made a quick call to my daughter’s pediatrician and asked him to review the lab results with me. After a brief consultation, he agreed that the elevated protein levels could be indicative of Guillain-Barré. We discussed options and I suggested transferring Patricia to Egleston Pediatric Hospital at Emory University in Atlanta, 108 miles away. I saw that the doctor was reticent, but the pediatric head nurse, who had joined our conversation, championed my cause. The doctor finally agreed and authorized the transfer.
In that era, parents were seldom welcome to stay the night in the same rooms as their sick or injured children, but the nurses at Egleston understood my situation and always found ways to let me stay with Patricia on the days I was able to make the two-hour drive from Columbus to Atlanta. The nurses understood that I couldn’t spend every hour of every day with her because I had three other children at home, an ailing mother and my own nursing job. The Egleston nursing staff made it clear that in my absence, they would care for Patricia as if she were their very own daughter.
I knew this wasn’t a special favor accorded me just because we shared a profession, but a sign of how seriously the nurses took their oath and responsibility for each patient on their unit. Seeing their dedication made it easier for me to leave Patricia in their charge as I focused on providing excellent care to my own patients. What was supposed to be a few-day stay at Egleston turned into weeks, but Patricia eventually made a full recovery and happily returned home.
The Best Traditions of Nursing
I know as well as anyone that nurses aren’t perfect. We’re human and we make mistakes. Sometimes, patients (and even family members) can make us wonder why we ever chose nursing in the first place. Even so, more often than not, nurses find ways to turn even the most stressful, annoying or troublesome situations around, sometimes so gracefully that patients don’t even realize it. That talent is one of our profession’s most overlooked and underappreciated skills.
Every day, nurses go the extra mile for their patients and the patients’ families, whether it’s advocating for a needed test or treatment or even bending the rules to allow a worried mother to say overnight with a sick daughter. Those of us in the profession don’t often think about these things because for us they aren’t at all extraordinary.
I know that the nurses at Columbia and Egleston didn’t give me any special treatment — their compassion, patience and sterling professionalism were just their way. To this exacting observer, however, they acted within the best traditions of nursing and I’m eternally grateful for it.
This article is from workingnurse.com.