If you’re already regular follower of our blog, you may have caught our special shout out to some of those people who continue to support our advocacy at Kinder Keepsakes—particularly the hardworking and dedicated nurses of the NICU. In this post, I’d like to share with you some real-life experiences and heartwarming stories from one of our special NICU nurses. 🙂
Jeff is just one of the many people who continue to support our advocacy at Kinder Keepsakes. He gets to work very closely with premature and sick babies on a daily basis, and it’s really more difficult than any of us can imagine.
Like all NICU nurses, he has a huge heart for children and can’t help but get really into his job. He may be incredibly busy with all the life-saving that he’s doing, but he took the time to share with us some of his personal—and vivid!—experiences in the NICU. Be warned, you might tear up halfway through this blog post!
“I knew right then it’s what I wanted to do.”
Jeff didn’t know right away that he wanted to work with babies. However, the idea struck him during one of his class’s rotation through the NICU as a college student.
“I actually got into nursing to be a flight nurse, to take care of really injured or sick patients from car accidents, burns, etc. But when we did our rotation through the NICU, I saw a baby that was barely 3 pounds and had just come back from heart surgery.”
“I got to see a baby’s heart beating in its [exposed] chest by looking through a plastic window. I thought that was the coolest thing I had ever seen, and I knew right then that it was what I wanted to do—take care of small babies.”
Perhaps what makes it a little bit easier for Jeff to take care of babies is that he raised his son by himself since he was 5-months-old, so he’s also “nurturing by nature.”
”It’s like an MMA fight”
We’ve established it over and over again—being an NICU nurse takes a lot out of you. Jeff describes just how much pressure is put on them:
“It’s challenging, knowing that you are responsible for the life of someone’s most valuable possession—their child—at probably the most scary time of their lives. Regardless of how sick a child is, it is absolutely frightening for a parent to have a child in Intensive Care.”
Jeff shares that he once had to take care of his college classmates’ babies, and it was extra nerve-wracking because he considered them “the children you especially don’t want anything to go wrong with.”
Unlike how it is for hospital patients in general, the NICU contains the youngest patients there is. They’re fragile, prone to illnesses and constantly need to be attended to with delicate and professional medical care. Thus, Jeff’s “regular” shifts are always an exhausting race against time!
“You can be constantly adjusting IV fluid rates, blood pressure medications, oxygen concentration, putting in tubes, IVs, and many others. Sometimes, you end up chasing their vital signs with your equipment all day to make them better. A baby that’s not really stable will have alarms going off all day long, each tone meaning something different.”
“I assure you, 12 hours of nonstop alarms and making changes all day long and hoping today is not the day you are going to lose a baby is exhausting mentally, physically, and emotionally. After work you feel like you just got out of an MMA fight.”
For Jeff and all other NICU nurses, they could be doing their very best to keep the babies alive but they would still be worrying about the worst case scenarios. Jeff says it’s “emotionally crippling” when they lose a baby, more so for the parents and the baby’s family.
“It is very difficult to console parents that just lost a child..You must be sure you pick the right words and avoid others, but being caring and having compassion are a must. It is even harder on us if it is one that has been there for a long time fighting and ends up losing the battle.”
Part of the family
In the NICU, it’s always a huge team working and caring for each baby. Of course, there’s the medical team, but the families’ participation is especially crucial. Jeff works together with his patient’s families with the main goal of getting the baby out of the NICU all better and healthy, and at the soonest possible time.
“From day one when I meet the parents, I introduce myself with a smile and congratulate them on the baby and tell them how beautiful he/she is. Ask them for baby’s name so we can get on a first name basis with the baby. The parents like when you call them by their name and not he/she.”
Jeff goes on to reveal that he treats everyone like “royalty,” even those parents who unfortunately did drugs and ultimately had a hand in the baby’s condition.
With all the hardship that nurses see babies go through, he admits that it’s sometimes very difficult to stay non-judgmental and just try to assure the family that they’ve had smaller babies who have gone on to do well.
Whatever the babies have that keeps them in the NICU, nurses like Jeff just try to reassure the families that they can fix the babies with “medications, machines and time” and try their best to prepare them for the “long road of ups and downs.”
“We get close to these families and their children and we become a part of their family. When baby does well, we rejoice together, and when baby has a rough patch and takes a few step backward, we sigh together.”
“When we lose one, it hurts us just as bad. That is our child too as far as we are concerned and we feel like we let them down. ”
Jeff added that they never stop worrying, even for babies who aren’t even considered critical. “A baby that one would call ‘safe’ or ‘out of the woods’ may not be. I have seen babies almost ready to go home and they end up sick and back on a ventilator with a tube in their lungs… You just never know”
On average, babies born around 23-25 weeks gestation spend at least 3 months or more in the NICU. Nurses generally inform the families to expect their babies to stay in the unit until the mother’s original due date arrives, sometimes even sooner. Meanwhile, they’re told to help any way they can.
Providing care for extremely small and premature babies is both different and challenging. Because they’re too fragile to come out of the “box” (called the isolette or incubator), parents sometimes have to wait as long as a month before they can hold their baby for the first time.
And when they do, they’re highly encouraged to hold the infant’s skin-to-skin it as often as they can in order to help regulate the baby’s heartbeat and body temperatures—referred to as Kangaroo care.
“My favorite moment by far is mom holding for the first time. We have them help us take temperatures, changing diapers, suctioning their mouth, cleaning their face and eyes or lips, moistening their mouth—little things that make them feel like they are a part of their babies care.”
“It really means a lot to them to be able to do anything, even just touch them through the port holes of the isolette.”
Jeff says they really get very close to the families after 3 or 4 months of watching the babies grow together, cheering every weight gain, every new feeding amount the babies are allowed to take, removing of tubes and lines, and even every poop! To nurses like him, it’s all part of the job.
“They have to be able to trust that it is OK to leave your child in the hands of a complete stranger. And if a parent tells me they sleep better because they know I am taking care of their child, then I feel like I have done my job,“ he proudly adds.
More than just a job
For Jeff, it’s easy for him to love what he does. After all, he gets to make a difference in others’ lives! As for the other perks that he gets to enjoy:
“I get to cuddle and hold tiny little babies every day. I get to comfort parents when they are scared, and share with them the joy of their child growing and getting better until he or she is finally time to go home where they belong.“
“We do it because we love children and we treat every child we take care of like they were our own child. I tell some parents that I take care of their child the exact same way I would take care of my own,” Jeff gushes about just how much he loves his job.
Jeff keeps in touch with many of his “graduates” so he can watch them grow. Sometimes, he even catches up with them in person or even babysits for them. “I have a whole extended family out there,” he explains.
“Knowing that I have touched so many lives and continue to every day, it is just so rewarding. It is very special when someone says their baby would not be here without your help and care.”
It’s really sad when there are people who take nurses like Jeff for granted and judge them the wrong way. Jeff shares that one time, a rude parent claimed that nurses had to be nice because they get paid to.
Jeff says in their defense, “We do it because we love children and love watching them get better. We work in a place that never closes 24/7 and 365 days a year, which means we are there taking care of your family on holidays while we are away from our own family.”
We are very fortunate to have many neonatal nurses like Jeff working together with us on our mission at Kinder Keepsakes.
Every now and then, we send them sponsored graduation packages to hand out to their patients right before they leave the NICU. Sometimes, they even purchase them using money from their own pockets just so they can provide more graduation caps and gowns to those babies graduating from the NICU!
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Let us know how Jeff’s story touched your heart in the comments section below. Hope to hear from you soon!