In the Midst of RSV Season: Humanity in the PICU (Pediatric Intensive Care Unit)

My son’s room was right across the huge double doors which is the entrance to our side of the PICU and gives a great view as well as perspective on the comings and goings of medical staff, nurses, supplemental workers, patients, and parents.

I have always had this notion that the PICU was this big, cold, sterile and impersonal place. It coouldn’t be further from the truth. From the doctors, nurses, sitters, parents, and especially patient, there is so much personal interaction going on inside. They are not outwardly obvious at first glance but are in the knowing glances between parents, compassionate eyes above the mask, and the patient silence from nurses and doctors as they listen to feedback from parents. It’s in the calm way the members of the health care team explains why certain decisions need to be made.

I sit by my son’s bedside each day for most of the day and can see people going in and out the welcoming double doors. Before 7:00 AM, nursing staff starts arriving and you can feel new energy infusing within the unit. Assuring the night staff that their colleagues have come to relieve them and take their place. The night staff says their goodbye to their patients and frequently has to answer whether or not they are coming back later. Continuity of care is important in delivering excellent patient care. Trust is something that needs to be forged between patient and healthcare personnel. They are the people we entrust our children to after all. They need to know that we have confidence in their abilities the same way that they believe that we listen to their advice. Medicine is always changing and evolving. From new ways to use medications meant only for certain conditions, to new liefe-saving equipment that can detect certain conditions non-invasively. Despite these advancements, nothing compares to compassionate human contact.

A doctor comes in with a big cup of coffee in hand looking like he is mentally squaring his shoulders to prepare for the day. Members of the medical staff start coming into patient’s rooms. From residents, fellows and attending physicians trying to get an idea of how their respective patients night went by interviewing willing but sleepy parents and assessing their patients. They leave the room with the assurance they are coming back later with the rest of the team to discuss the plan for the day. Parents as asked to join bedside conferences by the medical team and questions are answered. A new plan means new hope for parents yearning for their PICU stay to end and a chance to finally birng their child home. Hope is so difficult to find and hold onto in the PICU.

Another member of the medical staff comes in through the door and this time she makes a beeline to our room. I try to answer her softly spoken questions while I stare at her pretty earrings. I don’t know how she could look so put together so early in the morning? I try to listen intently as she shares what her plans are for Isaac based on how he is doing this morning. She left after a few minutes but not before saying that she will inform her attending of her plans and she will come back later with the rest of the team.

The day progressed into night and pretty soon I had to consult my phone to check what day and date it is today. Another day had come to a close. We made sure to turn the lights on in the room at certain times so Isaac is aware of the passing of the day.

My son’s nurse comes in ans asks how I thought he was throughout the night. She also asks whether I took some time to sleep and emphasizes how important it is for me to rest and take breaks . A sitter comes in the room to introduce herself. My son had pulled his IV’s our first night so it was necessary for us to have a sitter. It was another person in the room that I could talk to keep me from feeling isolated.

I would like to think that the medical and nursing staff in the PICU gets regular refills of patience and empathy each day. They must! As a parent of a child who has visited the PICU so many times, we rely on the strength pf our doctors and nurses to give us hope when we feel there is none. And to bolster our strength when we feel weary. It takes a special kind of human to do the important work that they do, day in and day out. We also need to be reminded that they are people with families and they are not immune to hardships like the rest of us. Yet they show up to work to make a difference and to raise our spirits even for just a little bit. They allow us to have hope again. We will forever be grateful.