Parents of premature babies often refer to the NICU as a roller coaster ride of ups and downs, never knowing when to hold their breath and grab on tight or let go and enjoy the ride... all along trying not to puke.
Although different from a parent, as a NICU nurse I can tell you that we also experience the feelings of up and down that live in the air of a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. As I prepare for my work day, I often wonder what lies ahead of me. Who will I encounter? Will this be an easy day, taking care of growing, feeding babies that I've watched come so far and almost ready to go home with their family? The good moments of the NICU are finding that those babies once fighting for their lives are now off respiratory support, increasing on feedings, being held by parents for the first time, or even gaining the slightest bit of weight. These days make NICU nursing great. But not all days are like this. I must prepare mentally for the moments I go into work knowing immediately from the scene of chaotic hustle and bustle, that the day that lies ahead of me is going to be a difficult, rough and bumpy ride.
"Please secure all loose articles"
As I prepare for my shift and enter the world of the Neonatal Intensive Care, I must throw out any mental picture of what I wanted this day to be. I must get behind the eyes of the family, empathize with them, and try to understand what they may be feeling and going through. This can often be very difficult in times where stress and uncertainty linger. The baby will always be in the front and most important seat in these times of priority, because as NICU nurses we are their biggest medical advocate.
Welcome to the NICU- "Please keeps your hands, arms, and legs inside the train at all times"
This is life on the edge. Nowhere else in the hospital do they weigh their patients in grams instead of pounds, to avoid a medical mistake or drug overdose. Nowhere else is the margin of error so incredibly small. Everything has to be perfect; there is no room for mistakes as these little lives hang on the line. NICU nurses treat these babies as if they were our very own, and when everything turns out well, rejoice and celebrate alongside the parents. Yet when the outcome is not what was wanted, even if it was out of our control, we too, feel sadness and grief.
Just like everyone else, NICU nurses have good days and bad days themselves. Good days of personal happiness, feeling elated and energetic. While other days we may feel tired, stressed, discouraged, or even burned out. There are the days we enjoy coming to work and making a difference and other days we would rather be on a different roller coaster... perhaps at Disney World?
It's important for you to know that we are not here for the great hours, the coffee breaks, or the money, but we are, and always will be here for your baby. There is great love and satisfaction in guiding you through the twists and turns, up steep hills and down the unpredictable drops of this intense roller coaster ride we call the NICU. When you finally arrive at your destination of discharge, we are there too, cheering you on with great pride.
At the end of the day, nurses (unlike parents) get to leave the NICU behind and go back to a more predictable and somewhat calmer world at home. The blessings and sadness of the NICU still remain, but lying beneath the mental and physical exhaustion is the overwhelming feeling of satisfaction that comes along with being a NICU nurse, and really there is no greater job than this.
Jodi Dolezel is a Registered Nurse and currently works in a single room family centered care level 3 Neonatal Intensive Care in the Charlotte, NC area. Jodi is also the founder and facilitator of Peekaboo ICU, where this post first appeared.
Follow Jodi Dolezel on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PeekabooicuRN