On My Mind


Being a nurse is always challenging, but some days it can be a little much emotionally. Today was one of those days.  And I find myself reminiscing about certain children I’ve cared for in the past.

Ever since I was a brand new nurse 13 years ago, I’ve always worked with kids.  Some kids stay on my mind for the whole day or night – some for always.

  • I’ll never forget my 8-year-old patient on the pediatric hematology/oncology floor.  I was a brand new nurse working the night shift.  He had been diagnosed with cancer in his home country and traveled with his mom to the states for treatment.  He contracted a horrible fungal infection along the way.  His mom worked nights and he didn’t speak English, so I was assigned to him.  Nevermind that I was brand-spanking-new and he had multiple drips and meds and I was overwhelmed.  I managed fine.  He had a glowing smile, and he sometimes would join us at the nurses station and drink a cup of coffee with us!  Last I heard he was doing well, but that was years ago.
  • Even though it was brief, I won’t forget the baby who died in the emergency room.  I was working the night EMS transported a 1-year-old baby to us.  The nurses who had been working there for awhile knew of this baby.  He had a chronic congenital condition called hydrocephalus and was not expected to have a long life.  He was a DNR – Do Not Resuscitate – patient.  That meant the healthcare team could only provide specific treatments laid out in the plan.  That included oxygen and epinephrine/atropine.  The baby died right there in front of us.  We gave the baby to his mom and gave them privacy so she could say goodbye.  In the meantime, I contacted the Organ and Tissue Center and made a sad discovery – this baby didn’t even weigh enough to donate his organs, even though the mom was willing.  It was heartbreaking.  And I had to go on about my shift, taking care of ear infections and demanding patients, and I wanted to yell at them “There’s a dead baby in Bed 6!” It was a nightmare that I didn’t want to experience again.  I didn’t last long in that ER.
  • When I worked at a different school several years ago, one of our students was taken away on a stretcher by EMS because he practically rolled off the bus, disoriented, saying “My dad gave me a white pill.”  He was physically ok, but I wonder what his life has been like.
  • When I worked in a pediatrician’s office, we took care of a newborn who was in foster care.  She had a birth defect called partial anencephaly – her brain didn’t properly form and she was only born with primitive brain stem function.  She was a beautiful little baby, and her instinct to suck kept her alive for a short time, taking a bottle from her foster mom.  I couldn’t get over how “normal” she looked from the outside.  The doctor I worked with said “It’s so sad that she won’t develop past this point.”  I wonder how long she lived.

I’ve done this long enough to know:  Today’s experiences may fade away.  We have so many encounters with so many patients as nurses, that it is impossible to remember them all.  Today I was told one of our students had major emergency surgery and we will wait to see how the child’s functioning will be affected.  Another student suffered a traumatic hand injury at the end of the school day – I sent him off after some quick first aid to be taken care of.  These two will stay on my mind for awhile.  Even when I feel my brain and heart have reached their maximum capacity for caring and concern, life goes on and kids get sick and hurt.  And I will stand with other nurses, ready to receive and bound to remember, at least for a time.

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10 thoughts on “On My Mind

  1. I see tough things in social work, but I can’t even imagine . . .

    • Oh I admire social workers so much – I don’t know how you do it! Even when I did my Community Health rotations in nursing school where we had to go into the homes of patients, I was so anxious. I didn’t feel comfortable getting so involved in their life, but I knew it needed to be done. Social workers are so undervalued but so vital! You chose a great field.

  2. Running Girl says:

    I can’t imagine…..I have handled several death cases over the last ten years. But the only one that truly bothered me was a 2 yr old girl who choked to death on a tiny pebble while at daycare. We defended the daycare. The picture of that little girl still haunts me. I told my boss I would not handle another death case involving a child again.

    • Wow that’s so heartbreaking! Choking dangers are everywhere. Last year one of our 4-year-old students choked on a quarter that fell out of his classmate’s backpack that was her ice cream money. Luckily, he threw it up but it was scary for everyone. I think it’s interesting that sometimes we only know a child because of their injury or illness, or as in your case from a legal standpoint, so we may not even KNOW them well, or at all, and yet they touch us.

  3. acuriousgal says:

    I hear ya, Cathy! I’ll never forget working in the ER and a young boy came in in cardiac arrest after an asthma attack. They were never able to revive the young boy…..the scream from the father was something I will never forget, it was a sound I had never heard before….so gut wrenching. All the staff had a really hard time after that loss.

    • Oh that’s so horrible!! I would never recover from that either. My son has asthma and so many of my students do. I try on a daily basis, at every opportunity, to educate the kids and their parents about how suddenly an asthma attack can occur. It’s shocking to see how many parents don’t understand the seriousness of their child’s condition.

  4. i totally understand. there are certain moments that are forever ingrained in your memory. the patient’s lives become apart of our own. we heal. we listen. we care. we nurture. and then, at the same time, we advocate. we fight. we push. we resuscitate. and sometimes, we bring them to the morgue. then our shift ends, and we must carry on, to do those very same things, but for another patient.

    hope you get plenty of rest and ‘self care’ amidst all of the nurse chaos. =)

  5. This is so powerful & brought me to tears. You’re such an inspiration

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