They’re called pediatric nurses.
Beyond their lifesaving clinical work, pediatric nurses are unofficially tasked with helping sick kids still be kids. Sometimes that means wearing a tutu on top of scrubs or turning a glass door into an arts-and-crafts station. And sometimes the challenge lies beyond our hospital walls. Last year, for example, our team of oncology nurses helped navigate infection control and transportation hurdles to help a teenage cancer patient attend a meet and greet with Taylor Swift. To varying degrees, such things happen in our hospitals every day and often take place with an audience of none.
For more than 30 years, I’ve watched waves of pediatric nurses begin their journey here at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Some are fresh out of college. Some have decades of experience. Some are quiet. Some are social butterflies. But all are unified by a deep desire to use their talents to improve the quality of life for children.
As I say at every welcome orientation, our nurses literally and figuratively wrap their arms around patients and become a patient’s voice. Of course, everyone on our team—doctors, respiratory therapists, occupational therapists, child life specialists—plays a crucial role. But, as any one of them will tell you, nurses put the whole picture together and have an expert eye for assessing the physical and emotional needs of kids.
I don’t own a newspaper, and I don’t anchor a news program. But if I did, here are some of the stories I would gladly bring to light:
- When a 6-year-old patient had all—yes, all—of her baby teeth pulled in preparation for yet another procedure, her team of nurses had an idea. Together, they played the role of Tooth Fairy and made sure she awoke to dollar bills and other surprises under her pillow.
- One of our oncology nurses is an avid golfer. To help patients pass time between treatments, she invites them to decorate her golf balls. And each of those patients leaves with the pride of being her “lucky charm.”
- One little girl who spent her first year of life under our care had a special angel in her corner. Not only did her primary nurse help her stay 100 percent clear of pressure ulcers and bloodstream infections, but she also made her first birthday extra special for the family by arranging for a photographer to take photos of her in a new dress and shoes.
- For years, our cardiac nurses have cut the medical tape they use into tiny hearts. The older kids get a kick out of it, and the small gesture brings comfort to families, particularly those of our tiniest patients.
- An orphaned boy facing terminal illness wanted nothing more than to attend a Georgia Tech basketball game. Thanks to persistence and help from his nurses, his wish came true. Not only did he make it to a game, but he did so surrounded by a cheer section comprised of his nurses and physical therapists.
- At a garden celebration in honor of our 400th liver transplant recipient, one special guest went unnoticed by most attendees … but not by me. Nestled in the back row was a patient attached to a Berlin Heart. Taking such a complex patient down to the lobby and into the garden requires a tremendous amount of work and responsibility, but this nurse went the extra mile to let her patient feel the warmth of sunshine on an unusually warm fall day.
- When one of our own was diagnosed with breast cancer, her nurse colleagues went above and beyond to let her know how much they care for her. They made supportive T-shirts, organized fundraisers, delivered weeks’ worth of meals, donated their own time off and took turns babysitting her kids during chemo treatments.
- We don’t know who started this tradition, but when a baby comes into one of our NICUs, his or her primary nurse starts a journal to capture the story of his or her stay with us. We like to think of the journals as the patient’s first baby book. Not only do our NICU nurses maintain the journals, they also personally donate the materials to keep them going.
And these are only the recent stories that come to mind. After 30 years of working with our creative, compassionate and dedicated family of nurses, I could fill shelves of books with such stories.
But, as I said earlier, my job doesn’t always have an audience for storytelling. Lucky for me, though, it provides a front-row seat to the people and stories behind the headlines you’ll probably never read or hear.
Want to join our team? We’re hiring!