By Edward Gerard, R.N.
I cried at work. I didn’t cry a lot, no sobbing or hysterics, no puddles of tears. But, I could have cried more if I let myself. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of reasons to be sad at Johns Hopkins All Children’s. Crying is completely acceptable. But the circumstances that triggered my moment of hyper lacrimal secretion weren’t particularly sad. It was the tenderness of a child who turned my faucet on.
I had been caring for a little boy with a serious disease. Admitted for surgery, he was on his way home that day. We were buddies by this point. He knew my name and wasn’t afraid to use it. He had moved past the inconvenience of pushing his call light to get my attention. He would just summon me with a holler by name out into the hall. I think he might have been looking out for my health, as he had me running all day. His parents would come and stay at the bedside often. Still, he insisted that I should participate in his care. It was cute and funny. He would holler, I would feign playful annoyance and he would laugh out loud. He was enjoying himself for sure.
On the day of his discharge he needed to have an IV removed. His parents warned that, above all, he disliked having tape removed the most. So I put my best “friendly nurse face” on and pulled out all my tricks. He protested through the whole experience. No amount of nursing charm or parental comforting could help this little man. I really felt bad, really bad, really, really bad. This poor guy, almost a friend of mine at this point, completely miserable for the entire experience, was giving me a run for my money. He didn’t fight. He didn’t pull away. But he was not happy.
So now it is just me and this rotten tape. My whole existence has narrowed down to this tiny man hand and this cursed IV. This tape, it’s the stickiest, and it has been applied generously. It was like no other tape job I’ve ever seen. I’m sweating, vision blurring from concentration. I can hear other ICU noises but they seem so far away. It’s just this little boy, this darn tape, and me.
I Just. Want. This. Tape. Off.
And then finally, as if all of our troubles had evaporated into thin air, the last piece of devil tape came off. The IV catheter slid right out. Band-Aid, boom, done. I let out a breath that I’d likely been holding for minutes and rested my weary head on the bed next to my brave little friend.
So, no tears yet. I said I cried. Well you would have cried too if what happened next had happened to you. That little boy reached up from his perch and put his hand on the back of my head. He patted and stroked my head. He said, “It’ll be OK, Ed.” That is when the waterworks started. This sage little boy, even in his most difficult moment, had enough compassion to be concerned about someone else. His strength reminded me that we’re in this together. We need these little people in our lives as much as they need us.
Edward Gerard is a nurse clinical team leader in the cardiovascular intensive care unit at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.