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Touched by an angel

STOCKER, PAMELA K. , RN, BSN

SHARING

With a challenging assignment comes an unexpected antidote to burnout.

A fragile toddler's love of life gives her weary nurse a new perspective.

HAVE YOU EVER met someone who touched your life so profoundly that you know you'll be changed forever? I have, and thinking of her transports me to her bedside now. Her room is dark and quiet, except for soft background music and the steady swoosh…swoosh of a ventilator. Decorated cheerfully, the room is filled with toys, dolls, and other signs of love. But among the stuffed animals and nursery accessories are a mechanical ventilator, a suction machine, apnea monitor, and oxygen equipment.

In the center of all of this equipment is a toddler. I'll call her Angel—not only because she has an angel's face, but also because she reminds me of the Bible verse that says that some people entertain angels without knowing it (Hebrews 13:2). This child came into my life when I most needed an angel.

In my 30th year of nursing, I was burned out. I'd started to question whether my work had any meaning at all. Events of the previous year had left me angry, bitter, and very depressed. I asked myself, Were all the headaches and heartaches I'd endured over the years fruitless? Should I just get out of nursing? I felt incompetent and empty.

As I looked for new opportunities, I started working for a temp agency. When they sent me to fill in as a private-duty nurse for a child who's ventilator dependent at night, I was confident that I could handle this child's nursing care but not so certain I could deal with my own emotions. None of my experience had prepared me to care for this fragile bit of humanity.

But Angel soon overcame my fears. When she looked up at me with her bright blue eyes and gently smiled, my fears started to melt away. Instead of my being her guardian angel, watching over her during the night, she became an angel for me.

When she wakes up in the morning, she starts her day with a happy, “Good morning, Pam.” Her joy is as boundless as her energy. “Pam, turn me, please,” she requests, or “Pam, read book.” Her laughter and chatter contrast starkly with the flaccid arms and legs of her once-healthy body.

After I finish suctioning her, she says, “All better.” It feels like a warm blanket on a cold night. When I put her favorite doll in her arms, she says, “Thank you, Pam.” When her mom asks her who I am, her answer is clear and certain: “My nurse, Pam.”

Her plan of care includes not only performing skin care, suctioning, and tube feedings, but also knowing the names of her favorite dolls and stuffed animals, reading books, and blowing bubbles.

A toddler taught me several important lessons this year: Look for the joys in life, blow bubbles, and laugh a lot. Spend time with a child and learn about trust and love. Give of yourself to others young and old—not expecting anything in return, just for the joy of giving. Look for miracles and joys, not problems. Pray for your own health and the health of those you love.

When Angel wakes up at night and sees me, she grins and goes back to sleep. So these days, when I question whether I've made a difference through my work as a nurse, I have an answer: In the last few months, I've made a difference in the life of one small child.

Thank you, Angel, for giving me your trust. Without even trying, you helped my heart to heal.

Pamela K. Stocker is an instructor in the Practical Nurse Program of Canton (Ohio) City Schools.

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© 2005 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.