Whenever I’m asked what I do for a living and say I’m a Pediatric ICU nurse, I get the same response: “lucky baby.” It always stops me in my tracks and I don’t really know how to respond, so I usually say “I guess so.” Yes, if, heaven forbid, something did happen to my son Noah, I’m specially trained to save him. But I don’t think they can even begin to understand how my profession may also hinder him.
I call it “PICU paranoia.” What we see on our unit would give any mother nightmares. Innocent children hooked to machines which feed them and breathe for them, and even in-room heart/lung bypass called ECLS (Extra-corporal Life Support). The causes for their illnesses range from freak accidents, rare diseases, tragic situations, newly discovered chronic conditions, to abuse.
I’ve only worked in the PICU for a year, and almost every day I learn something new or discover some unthought-of child “death trap” most don’t even dream about. So I started joking with my husband early on in my pregnancy about how I’ll wrap Noah in bubble wrap to protect him from death traps (obviously bubble wrap is a death trap in and of itself to a baby). I’m not a germ freak, and I know exposure to microbes will help him build a strong immune system, so besides good hand-washing skills, I don’t plan on quarantining him or making him wear a mask on the playground. It’s the accidental traumas that plague my anxiety-ridden mind.
My parents have a pool and they will be Noah’s primary childcare providers. We have stairs and a wrap around balcony in our house, which makes me think that buying a new one-story home should be part of our baby-proofing process. Every corner on furniture, window blinds, electrical equipment and medication scream “DEATH TRAP” to me.
Lucky kid? Try dorky kid whose mom won’t let him play baseball at the park without a helmet. I know injuries are part of childhood, but when you see a child paralyzed after a little fall off of the monkey bars you can’t help but want to keep your child from playing on them as well.
What makes me even crazier is that I’m also concerned that my PICU paranoia will develop into Munchausen-by-Proxy (a psychological disorder where the mother demands something is medically wrong with her child, when they’re perfectly healthy). Thus, I have been shy about asserting my gut feelings or astute assessment findings to Noah’s Pediatrician. As a PICU nurse, I always refer to the parents as an integral part of the medical team because they will always know their child best. As a mom, I need to have more confidence in my intuition and know when to advocate for something I feel he needs.
After all, it was my mommy instinct that saved his life during labor. I knew something wasn’t right so I went to triage, where only an hour later I was rushed into the operating room for an emergent C-Section. Noah had turned my uterus into his jungle gym and wrapped the cord around his neck twice and body too. We were both fine, but if I’d been at home when it happened, I would have lost him.
So with that in mind, I “grew a pair” and finally demanded more intervention for Noah’s horrible reflux. I’d been sitting by meekly asking for help with a problem which I can see causes Noah so much pain and distress, only because I didn’t want to be the crazy paranoid PICU nurse mom. As a nurse it feels really good to advocate for your patient, but it feels even better to advocate for your own child.
I’m hoping, through the guidance of my amazing mommy co-workers, I’ll learn to cope with my PICU paranoia in a way that will allow Noah the chance to have an entertaining and care-free childhood. In the meantime, I’ll just look at my periodic head-to-toe assessments, complete with stethoscope auscultation of his heart, lungs and stomach, as a fun “game” we like to play. I can also rely on my husband who told me, “Don’t worry honey; I’ll only let him jump on the bed while you are at work.”