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Special Blessings: 'Amazing Nurse’ reflects on NICU miracles

Monday December 3, 2012
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The writer is the 2012 winner of The Johnson & Johnson Campaign for Nursing’s Future "Amazing Nurse" contest (www.amazingnurses.com). She was honored Dec. 2 as part of the "2012 CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute" live broadcast show and shared her first-person story with Nurse.com.

When people ask me about my job as a NICU nurse, I tell them, "It is the best job in the world, most of the time." We are blessed as nurses working in the NICU because we encounter many miracles. We see God’s miracles even when things don’t turn out the way we want.

Years ago, I was working one night when one of our babies became critically ill. There was nothing more the doctors could do for him. We brought his parents to the baby’s bedside to break the news, and because of my training in bereavement counseling, I stayed with the family to try to help them with their grief.

It was my first time formally meeting the family, and you might think it would be the worst time to meet someone, but it was the beginning of a long, meaningful friendship. This baby was one of a set of twins, born extremely early. I spent many hours with the family that night and was with them when their little boy passed away. We brought in a rabbi to offer prayers for him, and I encouraged the parents and grandparents to hold him as I took several photographs for them to keep in their memory box. I felt a special closeness to the entire family as they included me in their private grief.

The following night I was at home getting ready for bed when one of my coworkers called to ask for the name of the rabbi from the previous night. I knew immediately that I had to go to the hospital to be with the family again as they said goodbye, this time to the other twin, a girl.

I was upset when I realized I had used all of the film the night before, so my husband told me to take my own camera just in case. The rabbi had left for vacation that morning, but one of our nurse practitioners filled in to share the Hebrew prayers with the family. For the second night in a row, I spent several hours with the entire family, taking pictures again and helping the parents bathe and dress their daughter.

The babies were going to be buried together and the funeral was going to be held that day, in accordance with the Jewish faith. I wanted to make sure that during the funeral service the family would have all the photos I had taken. I left the hospital on a mission, which turned out to include a few obstacles. The first was the flat tire I discovered in the hospital parking lot. Thanks to a very kind security guard who changed my tire, I soon was on my way.

Then, since this was in the days before digital cameras, I needed to find a one-hour photo processing center to get the film developed. I found one, only to be told the photo lab was closed that day. I pleaded my case with the lab employees, but to no avail. I finally found a store that processed the film for me and was able to take the photos to the funeral for the family to share. I believe those pictures helped the family immensely.

I continue to counsel families and facilitate a HOPING (Helping Other Parents In Normal Grief) support group for families who have lost young children. It is so important for families to be able to grieve and remember their children whose lives were brief, but whose lives mattered.

I consider it a blessing to be able to help bereaved families, and I am amazed every day watching them heal and grow to be able to help other parents who are facing the same experience. •


Ann Coyle, RN, BA is a neonatal intensive care nurse at Virtua Voorhees Hospital in Voorhees, N.J., and facilitator of the HOPING Bereavement Support Group for families who have lost children.Write to editor@nurse.com or post a comment below.