My experience as a nurse and the parent of a sick child

Elliot

7-year-old Elliot

I was a nurse at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin for almost 10 years before I truly understood what it’s like to be “on the other side.” Yes, that’s what we call it.

It’s much easier being a nurse for a patient than it is being the parent of a patient. When we leave the hospital, our life gets back to normal. A parent does not get that same luxury.

This is an amazing place, filled with amazing people, but as a nurse I never wanted to be one of the parents on the other side.

But then it happened

Being the parent of a patient was something I knew nothing about — until my second child was born. I remember at my 20-week ultrasound being a nervous wreck. I can tell you the staff at Children’s Hospital never, ever, takes for granted what a blessing it is to have a healthy child.

We got the devastating news that something was wrong. After many ultrasounds and specialists later, we were evaluated by Dr. John Aiken.

Not only is Dr. Aiken a fantastic, skilled surgeon, he’s also a really nice guy. The nurses love him. I had taken care of Dr. Aiken’s patients for years, but now my unborn baby was going to be his patient, which meant that I had officially stepped to the other side. What a scary place.

My heart hung on every word he said. Always professional, smart and passionate for every patient, Dr. Aiken knew that he would have to operate after our baby was born. Our baby was diagnosed in utero has having a large, unknown mass in his right lung.

The prognosis at the time of the preliminary ultrasound was unknown. Weekly ultrasounds through my pregnancy were reassuring. Our baby continued to grow and the mass stayed the same size. He made it to the delivery date. And after a very short stay in the NICU, baby Elliot had found his way into the world. He continued to grow and thrive and had no complications. We were so lucky. You would have never know there was a mass.

A long, terrifying day on the other side

After a chest CT gave us more information, we learned that the mass was larger than anticipated. The surgery was scheduled for the mass to be removed. I carried my smiley 5-month-old baby with pale skin, beautiful green eyes, strawberry blonde hair and chunky legs through the doors of Children’s Hospital with my husband and family, facing a very long, terrifying day on the other side.

As a parent, I looked to my friends — my co-workers from environmental services, volunteers, care partners, nurses, operating room staff and Dr. Aiken — they were all there. They were smiling, and trying their best to reassure me that life was going to be ok.

The faith you have in the staff at Children’s Hospital is powerful, divine. Although Dr. Aiken refers to himself as someone who is in the body business, to me Dr. Aiken and the supporting staff at Children’s Hospital are truly God’s people.

There is no other place I would rather be

Today, my son Elliot is 7 years old. I am so thankful and so appreciative for his life. Dr. Aiken removed the right lower lobe of his lung. It was a long, tedious process. And although there were scary bumps along the way, our baby Elliot is one healthy, spunky 7-year-old boy! I realize how blessed we are for such a good outcome.

It’s painful to think about how terrifying life was on the other side. I’m no longer a floor nurse as my experience being a parent with a sick child changed me forever. Now, I work in surgical services as a nurse in the recovery room at Children’s Hospital, taking care of kids after surgery. Although I choose not to care for kids who have had the same surgery as Elliot, I am able to speak with those parents afterword and tell them Elliot’s story.

Life on the other side is nowhere I want to be. But if I am, there is no place I would rather go than Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin.

Katie Thompson, BSN, RN- Katie Thompson, BSN, RN, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin

Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin is designated a Magnet hospital by the American Nurses Credentialing Center.

Comments

My experience as a nurse and the parent of a sick child — 3 Comments

  1. Katie-seeing what you went through with Elliot was something no parent ever wants to experience. But any patient having you as their nurse and support during times of need are so lucky to have a talented, well educated, caring and passionate person like you to care for them. I hope you always have your heart in your work because so many patients are truly blessed to have a nurse as gifted as you to be there when needed.

  2. Welcome to the other side, Katie. Yes, this is a terrifying journey and for some of us, it never goes away. Only symptoms, meds, and office visits change. You are blessed to have been on our side of the bed because it forces you to become a better nurse. I praise God that your son is healthy and living a vibrant life. May God continue to bless you as a nurse and as a mother.

  3. Katie – It is a blessing that your beautiful Elliot had such a great outcome. As an O.R. nurse at Children’s for 18 years (now retired), I have such a special place in my heart for all of the staff there. I know your family and Elliot were in great hands. As you, being a nurse there yourself, know that we always treat every patient as though they were our own child. But being “on the other side” must give you such an added dimension to your practice. I am grateful that you shared your experience with us and, most especially, with those families having the same experience. Only someone who has been through it can truly understand the depth and breadth of their fear and pain, and by sharing yours, can ease theirs. You have been given a great gift, and it sounds like you are using it well. Thank you.