STORIES
August 29, 2017

6 Times Nurses Restored Your Faith In Humanity

By Brittany Hamstra, RN

As you may imagine, working as a nurse on a pediatric oncology floor comes with its fair share of difficult times and heartbreaking moments. That’s why it is essential to cherish the best and brightest memories with your patients.

I have been lucky enough to work with an amazing team of genuinely compassionate and empathic nurses. On every shift, I've witnessed their positivity and love transcend the scope of nursing and remind me time and again what being human means. There are countless memories, but here are 6 of the moments that have stuck with me the most.

A Valentine's Day Surprise

One of our 18-year-old oncology patients was hoping to spend Valentine’s Day with his girlfriend at home, but unfortunately, discharge from our unit was nowhere in sight due to complications with his stem cell transplant.

He wasn’t discouraged for long, though. The night before Valentine’s Day, a nurse on our unit excitedly offered to help him plan an elaborate surprise dinner for his girlfriend. Getting off of a 12+ hour shift and scheduled to work the next day, she scoured the shelves of nearby stores around town to buy the perfect supplies for an amazing hospital date.

On Valentines Day, our nurses went above and beyond with red and pink heart decorations, a customized playlist, and a romantically-set table for two. We were able to transform our unit playroom into a magical space for these two young people.

Playtime To The Rescue

Photo Credit: anjanettew, Flickr | CC-BY-SA | via Wylio

There are often moments when blood counts bottom out, patients lose their appetite, they lose their strength, and they can no longer muster up the energy to fight…but there is always a way.

After days of a patient lying in bed, refusing to move or walk, my coworker had an idea that only a pediatric nurse is capable of imagining. She decided this patient would not do what seemed like work, but might do what seemed like play.

After arming him with an awesome Nerf gun (courtesy of Child Life) and taping a huge bullseye target on her back, she taunted him to hit the target. As he shot, she stepped away...and then stepped further. 

Before he knew it, he was chasing her through our hallways at full speed, color rushing back into his pale face and a smile spreading ear to ear. Oddly enough, daily walks were never an issue again for this particular patient. 

Making It Festive

Creating some sense of normalcy is so important to our patients and families who lose control of life seemingly all at once.

One of our younger oncology patients had come to us from India, where cultural practices are vital to families. Every year, he looked forward to the Festival of Lights, or Diwali, as it is traditionally known. Our night shift team decided missing out on this special moment because he was in the hospital for chemotherapy was not going to happen. 

We decided to bring Diwali to him.

Just before his bedtime, six nurses burst in with party-poppers full of streamers, glow sticks galore, and traditional Indian music filling the room. As he pushed the hundreds of streamers around on his hospital bed as if making a snow angel, we looked down on his beaming face as we enjoyed our first Hindu New Year together. 

A Royal Reception

Photo Credit: Loren Javier | Flickr | CC-BY-ND

I think people assume working on a pediatric unit is a lot of dressing up, silliness and play. Well, to be perfectly honest, it is. How lucky are we to have such a job?

One of our dearest cancer patients had been on our unit for well over 6 months and we couldn’t blame him for feeling down every now and then. So on Halloween night, our nurses each picked a magical Disney princess character and committed to elaborate costumes, even covering our badge photos with princess stickers for the night.

As his nurses, Rapunzel, Anna, Elsa, Belle, Jasmine, and Snow White entered his room, a look of surprise swept his face. His open mouth slowly crept into a shy smile as he asked us all about our fantastical castles and whimsical stories. We’d be lying to ourselves if we said we didn’t enjoy it every bit as much as he did. 

Sweetest Dreams 

Photo Credit: Pan American Health Organization PAHO, Flickr | CC-BY-ND | via Wylio

In addition to oncology patients, our unit also accepted neurology patients. One baby boy stole the hearts of every single nurse on the unit. He was a victim of Shaken Baby Syndrome and at only a few months old, suffered irreversible neurological trauma. 

He would cry and cry at night, and as an investigation was pending on the parents, he had no visitors.

It warmed my heart to know he never truly spent a night alone, however. Every night, when the chaos of the shift had settled and it was time to sit together and chart at the desks, we carried him to the nurses’ station - IV pole, feeding pump, and all.

We would take turns cradling him in our arms to make sure he felt that human touch. It was only when we were holding him that he would actually fall asleep. And that meant he slept every night. 

What A Difference A Tiara Makes

One of my sassiest, funniest, and most loving oncology patients was noticeably different one night. I was her nurse often and I could immediately sense that something was off. 

After sitting down and digging deep, she told me she envied all of the nurses with long, pretty hair like mine. Imagine going through the body-image pressures of high school, compounded by a diagnosis of cancer and a body that changes beyond your control. 

She was entirely bald, and entirely beautiful.

I told her I was an excellent salon artist and I had a knack for decorating bald heads with stickers. I even told her I would cover my face in stickers to match, and wear them all night even when I saw the doctors and other patients. The thought of this gave her a good laugh, and she ultimately agreed to the makeover.

After rummaging through playrooms on two different units and accruing the most stylish collection of stickers, I gathered all of the nurses for makeover night. 

My patient loved her embellishments but mostly loved hearing about all of the strange glances we got that night from visitors, especially the 200-pound male nurse on our unit whose makeover came equipped with emerald gem stickers near his eyes and a sparkling tiara for his bald head that we found. Beauty radiating and confidence beaming, my patient told me it was her best makeover yet. 

*  *  * 

So, if you feel like you lose faith in humankind from time to time, please remember to search for the overlooked moments of pure kindness all around us. They're there if you just look.

Tell us your stories be emailing soyeon@nurse.org


Brittany has been a pediatric oncology nurse for 2 years at the Disney Hospital in Florida and recently started the adventure of travel nursing. When she’s not on shift, you can find her planning her next trip around the world, playing volleyball on the beach, or finding her zen at a bikram yoga class.

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