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Giving Thanks for Meaning in a Nonclinical Setting

November 25, 2013

Julianna Paradisi, RN, OCN, writes a monthly post for this blog and works as an infusion nurse in outpatient oncology. The illustration of this post is by the author.

NiceNurseSome Thanksgiving seasons, it feels like the only specific nursing thing to be thankful for is the overstocked larder of the staff lounge, marking the advent of The Season of Eating.

I’m being facetious. Actually, there’s lots to be thankful for in nursing, including a regular paycheck, which is not taken for granted. However, most nursing units remain understaffed, despite hoards of nursing school graduates desperately seeking jobs—creating a no-net gain on the gratitude side of the ledger.

Ethical issues and long hours also make finding gratitude a challenge. It’s not the gifts from patients of flavored popcorn and boxes of chocolates in the staff lounge that warm a nurse’s heart so much as the handwritten cards accompanying them, thanking us for their care. For nurses, finding meaning in what we do goes hand in hand with gratitude.

This season, however, I was surprised by an opportunity to find meaning as a nurse outside of a clinical setting, and I want to share the experience.

One afternoon, a neighbor came to my door asking for help. She is the mother of two small children, and her toddler had accidentally burnt his hand in the kitchen. She’d taken him to the emergency department and a burn specialist was consulted.

My neighbor stood in the doorway, holding her toddler, whose hand was bound in gauze. Her preschool-aged daughter was at her side. The burn specialist had prescribed daily wound care and dressing changes. This was distressing to her, for all the reasons you can think of. My neighbor knew I’d been a pediatric intensive care nurse. Would I come over and help with the first dressing change?

Of course I said yes.

Early that evening I knocked on their door, happy to help, but apprehensive. Would the child tolerate the dressing change? Would he fear me from now on because of it?

Normally, children are drawn to me, but when I was a PICU nurse I wondered at this, harboring a secret fear that if these children knew what I did for a living, they would be terrified instead. In my role of pediatric intensive care nurse I was a real life bogeyman (woman).

Despite my concerns, the dressing change went well. His mother held him in her arms while I gently washed and dressed his burns. His sister, however, cried out when she saw the burned hand, and then covered her eyes. Her mother and I explained in simple terms that her little brother’s hand would heal in time.

I offered to do the dressing changes every evening. The second went much like the first, but on the third visit, his sister brought me the bag containing the dressing supplies, and then picked out which bright outer wrap we would use. The one printed with green dinosaurs? Or the light blue printed with dark blue cars instead? On the fourth evening she opened the packages of gauze, laid out the bandage shears, and opened the small jar of salve. She had memorized their order of application, and handed each to me in its turn.

This continued for a week. Every evening the toddler’s hand showed remarkable improvement; every evening, his sister assisted me with the dressing change. She made observations, and asked questions.

At the medical follow-up appointment, the burn specialist declared the dressing unnecessary, and that was the end of my visits.

It’s been several weeks, and my neighbor repeatedly thanks me for helping. Her son’s smiles are reassurance that he does not fear me. More meaningful, however, are my neighbor’s reports that her daughter asks each evening if I am coming over to their house. She hasn’t actually said that she wants to be a nurse, but helping with her brother’s dressing changes transformed her from a child afraid of looking at a wound into a big sister able to help, because I am not the bogeyman. I am the woman next door, who is a nurse, and knows how to dress wounds without hurting a child.

This Thanksgiving, among many other blessings, I am grateful for finding the gift of meaning outside of a clinical setting.

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6 comments

  1. After administering shots to a little boy as he prepared to enter Kindergarten, he pointed me out to his mother in a store: “Look, Mommy, there’s the shot-lady!” with a big smile. When we are honest with a child the know it and will learn to not fear us. :-)

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  2. Loved this post for a variety of reasons… Happy Thanksgiving Julianna!

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  3. Thanks for your post. It is a reminder that we nurses can make a difference both in health care settings and in our communities. I have always found it almost more rewarding to receive local validation from friends and neighbors.

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  4. That was a lovely story. I should be so lucky to use nursing for neighbors or family in need. Happy Thanksgiving!

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  5. Nice post – and a good reminder that there are so many ways to create a positive image of nursing.

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  6. Nice!

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