By Jody Holland, MN, RN, neonatal ICU and pediatrics, St. Charles Medical Center, Bend, Oregon
The strength of parents.
We have all had and need mentors at some time in our career. The most influential mentors to me have been the parents of the infants and children who have been placed in my care. Parents do not ask for their child to be born early or develop a devastating illness, but these parents summon great strength when it’s needed.
I have countless memories of episodes that have made me pause and reflect on the courage and resolve of parents. I remember a family who stood by their child during a resuscitation and were an integral part of the decision-making process to end the resuscitation. This was long before research documented the benefits of this type of parental involvement.
Or the time when the parents of a child with a devastating head injury fulfilled their promise to their child to get married. In addition, the child also wanted to be the flower girl. They were married at their child’s bedside. The ICU staff followed their wishes and dressed the girl in an outfit of their choosing, placed flowers in her hair, and made a bouquet. The ceremony went off without a hitch—and I believe it gave the parents some peace in knowing that they had fulfilled their child’s wish.
Parents know their children best.
Because parents know their child so well, they are often the ones who can encourage their child to comply with care routines when others can’t. This became clear to me when a father made a “mini” barbell to encourage movement of his daughter’s constricted arm. When I saw this I thought it was genius.
In addition, I have memories of countless children born with visible anomalies or acquired visible physical changes due to surgeries or traumas. Parents take these challenges and are able to focus on the positives of what their child can do rather than the negatives.
Humor and adaptability.
Humor is also a way that parents have been mentors. Once when I was in my office two mothers came to visit me. One had a plastic sword, the other a toy gun. They told me they were “busting their kids out of here.” We all had a good laugh, and and it helped them cope with the abnormal stress of parenting a critically ill child.
Lastly, I also remember countless parents whose dream of a fat chubby baby ended with the delivery of an extremely premature infant. These parents did an immediate course correction on their expectations and quickly learned the conversation of medical and nursing care of an extremely premature infant. They became well versed in respiratory support, infant cues, feeding intolerance, and all that goes with the long recovery of an extremely premature infant.
Parents have mentored me in what it means to show great strength in a crisis, and they are the strongest people I have met in my career.