In Praise of Indy’s Top-Notch Nurses

A note about the caregivers you don’t get to choose

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Top Doctors. Indianapolis Monthly. November 2013.As my wife and I sat in the pediatric ICU at Riley Hospital for Children, I had two questions: What the heck was happening to our son, and would he survive it?

It was a Sunday in May, and Avery, our 2-year-old, had suffered from a cold for a couple of days. That morning, we awoke to a sound from the baby monitor. It wasn’t Avery’s typical babbling—it sounded like gagging. Amanda, my wife, rushed into his room. Avery’s blue eyes were open, but they didn’t move. His body was limp. He could barely breathe.

I called 911. After a few hours in the emergency room at Indiana University Health Bloomington Hospital, where Amanda works, Avery was driven 60 miles northeast to Riley. There he lay sedated, with tubes and wires running onto his chest, into his arm, up his nose, down his throat.

We saw many doctors. They ordered many tests. I just wanted someone to tell us what was wrong, that Avery would be all right. While we waited—first in the ICU and then, after Avery was allowed to wake up and ditch his breathing tube, in a regular room—we had many nurses.

In 12-hour shifts, the Riley RNs took care of our little man. They did the easy jobs and the messy ones, from monitoring his oxygen level, to giving him medicine, to taking blood for tests, to weighing his wet diapers to make sure he was well-hydrated. Each time they entered and left our room, they donned and then removed surgical masks, gowns, and rubber gloves—the uniform Amanda, any visitors, and I had to wear because the docs suspected Avery had a respiratory virus. The nurses endured his sickly cries whenever they so much as touched his back with a stethoscope.

Each had her own approach. Elizabeth was a pinball, everywhere at once. Jennifer dished out skillful care and sarcastic comebacks. Theresa, a 40-year veteran of the profession and a grandma, had a quiet confidence and country charm. When I sang “Camptown Races” to calm Avery, Theresa sang along.

The nurses also cared for Amanda and me. They brought us drinks, answered our questions. Desperate to comfort our boy and regain a touch of normalcy, Amanda asked to hold Avery. “Of course!” our nurse said, and moved the equipment and wires so Amanda could take him from his bed and cradle him in her arms.

We came to Riley expecting the doctors to be our heroes, to give us the big answers about Avery’s illness. But when a loved one is sick, the little things matter, too. Even the best doctors can’t be around for constant care. For that, thank goodness, we have nurses.

The doctors determined that Avery had not one, but two respiratory viruses. That Sunday morning, the docs thought, the viruses had caused a fever, which led to a seizure. After a six-day, five-night stay, Avery improved enough to leave. But it was one last nurse who brought us his discharge papers, a prescription for anti-seizure meds, and, to help get all of our belongings to the car, a red Riley wagon. It was with her help that we went home.

Illustration by Carl Wiens

This article appeared in the November 2013 issue.

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