Part of me envies the NICU parents who can proudly proclaim that their NICU nurses were fantastic miracle workers sent from above who kept their tiny child alive. A NICU nurse who they keep in touch with, share pictures with, a nurse that remembers their child.
I didn’t have that experience when our son was in the NICU for three months. And you could say that part of me is a little bitter about that. Should we have had better relationships with our son’s nurses than we did? Was it us? Or was it just the fact that our son got a brand new NICU nurse almost every two days?
Our son never had one, two or even three consistent NICU nurses who cared for him during his entire stay. He’d have one nurse that we loved for two nights, and then we wouldn’t see her again for six weeks. This is the cycle that continued until he was released from NICU.
I felt, from what I had read and heard, that this was abnormal. I felt that most NICU babies (especially babies born before 30 weeks gestation) usually had just one, or at least a very small number of consistent nurses who exclusively cared for them. And I wanted that. Boy, did I want that.
The issue with having an array of NICU nurses who cycle through so quickly is that none of them got to know my son. They didn’t learn what made him tick, or what made him fussy or what was normal, or not normal behavior for him. And honestly, that made me feel very uneasy.
For example, my son was taken off oxygen support at 33 weeks gestation, and he was doing okay. One night his oxygen kept desatting, meaning his oxygen levels were decreasing. The nurse, who I had never seen before (and bless her heart was a float nurse from Peds) was told by the previous nurse that this was the first time he had desatted all day, so the float nurse just assumed it was his monitor malfunctioning. I tried to explain to her that it’s probably him actually desatting, and not his monitor. I went home that night, and came back the next morning to find that he desatted the entire night. When the daytime NICU nurse got back on shift, she had to put him back on oxygen support. This is just one example, albeit an extreme one, but one that shows the detriments of not having consistent nurses. Unfortunately there were too many incidents like this for us.
I had a sit-down conversation with the NICU manager about this during our stay. I was so tired of the nurses who came and went so fast that it seemed like they felt no real need or desire to actually get to know my son, and thus couldn’t take care of him as effectively as a consistent nursing team could have. The manager basically told me this was unrealistic, that it was not feasible have two or three nurses exclusively following around a single baby. (This hospital had a NICU and then a step-down NICU unit on another floor.)
I’m sure other NICU parents have experienced this. But it makes the NICU experience that much more unpleasant when every three days a brand new stranger is taking care of your child. Because of this, there were very few nurses my husband and I got to know or feel comfortable with. We voiced our dissatisfaction with our son’s care, quite a bit. So much so that the staff had put in our file “involved parents; complains a lot.”
I wished that we had a different experience. I’m sure the majority of my son’s nurses were very good NICU nurses. We just never had the time with any of them to find out.
I think I can speak for my husband when I say we felt very alone in our NICU experience. To say the very least, we learned to advocate for our son right out of the gate, and often. Because we had to. That was a good thing in a lot of respects, because that advocating has continued throughout our son’s life. And even though our son was hooked up to machines to be kept alive by nurses and doctors, it taught me that I will always know my son better than anyone else.