Don’t get me wrong. Doctors can be pretty awesome too. But the nurses we encountered at Miller Children’s Hospital were amazing.
I know, I know, I sound like a PR campaign, but if anyone made the transition easier for us into this new lifestyle of Type 1 Diabetes, it was the nurses.
Up in the PICU, they kept telling us about the “awesome nurses down on the second floor,” who would be training us about diabetes. But the thing is, these PICU nurses loved their jobs so much, they just couldn’t help themselves. They went ahead and showed us the ropes. One nurse brought in a bunch of different syringes and, apologizing that it wasn’t really her job to do this, proceeded to explain how they all worked and what the measurements were and how to remove bubbles from them and how to dispose of them, just because she “loved this stuff.” It was her job, and she had a chance to talk shop with some willing listeners.
She went off duty and Nurse Brian came on. I remember his name because he was the nurse for the two boys in the room, both of whom were named Ryan. We had fun with that. And he not only showed Ryan how to lance his finger to get a drop of blood to test, but made him do the math to figure out what the dosage should be. And then, when Ryan got that math right, he gave him a hypothetical number and asked him to figure out the dosage if that were the blood sugar. Word problems from a nurse in the PICU. The homeschooler in me cheered. He even told him to show his work (while Mom did a fist pump behind Ryan’s back).
And then he handed me the needle and said, “Okay Mom, you do the shot.”
I have never shot anything before. Other than with a camera, I mean. But sticking a needle into someone’s skin, on purpose? Especially on my sick baby? My sick 11 year old “baby,” who is taller than me, granted, but still. I had no idea how to do it but there sat Nurse Brian and Ryan, looking at me expectantly, and I realized I had a choice. I could freak out, which would communicate to Ryan that this was scary and awful and wrong, or I could just suck it up and stick the needle into his arm and get on with it. Because this was not going to be the last shot I gave. So I did. Grabbed it like a dart and jammed it into his arm.
Well. Apparently I have watched too many episodes of Gray’s Anatomy. Nurse Brian winced and said, “Oh, um, you don’t need to drive it in. You just stick it in.” Ryan did a little more than wince. The shot I gave was a good intramuscular shot. We were aiming for subcutaneous.
Think fence-post-hole digger as opposed to a crouquet hoop.
Still, at least it could only get better after that first one. Although Ryan did wrap his arms around himself and declare, “You are never allowed to touch me anywhere ever again.” But I’m sure that was the blood sugar talking.
The next day, Ryan was moved into the care of the “awesome nurses on the 2nd floor.” And they lived up to their name, but they were quite surprised with how quickly we caught on to the diabetes stuff. I don’t remember if we let them in on the fact that the PICU nurses had already been over it with us. So they probably think we’re all just geniuses, and that’s okay with me.
The day after that, we had three nurses. Two were student nurses from California State University at Long Beach. It made me want to go back to school, just seeing how eager they were to help, to learn, to become medical professionals. By the day after that, Ryan was in such good shape, he was asked by another student nurse if he would be a test subject for a demonstration. The student needed to pass a hands-on exam to show that he knew the correct procedure for a head-to-toe physical assessment. Ryan agreed, and the student nurse came back a few minutes later with his instructor to do the test. However, he had been banking on just Ryan and Dad being there, not being privy to the fact that two sisters and a mother were on their way back from the cafeteria. So when he walked in the room he blanched visibly and said, “Oh, I didn’t know I would have an audience.” Poor guy was nervous enough, but we made it twice as hard.
He did well, despite the fact that he stumbled a little when rattling off the lymph nodes. I had no idea the human body had that many different lymphatic glands. Well, maybe it doesn’t; he was stuttering a little. At any rate, when it was over, the family gave him a round of applause and voted to pass him with flying colors. I don’t know if the instructor took that into consideration, but he came back later, beaming from ear to ear, to announce that he had passed and to thank us for allowing Ryan to be his victim… er… subject. He was a bright young man, and very personable. I’m sure he will go far. And the fact that he was able to display such grace under pressure as to pass that test under the watchful eye of no fewer than four family members may indicate that he has a promising future in ER nursing.
By the time we were sent home, I was genuinely sorry to say good-bye to the staff. They had been our guides on our first shaky steps down this journey, our support, our safety net, our teachers and our cheerleaders. And it hit me hard, as we left the hospital, just as it had 19 years before when we left the hospital with our first newborn child, that they weren’t coming with us. I had become quite adept at giving shots by then, and Alan had started out being adept, what with his classical guitar-playing, artist background, which had apparently developed far greater fine motor skills for him than my Keith-Greenesque piano-banging did for me. Even big sister Emily had given a few shots. And all that complicated dosage math? I could do it in my sleep. This year, my homeschooling/tutoring duties require that I teach 6th, 8th and 10th grade math, so I was up to speed on all the subtracting, dividing and ratio skills I needed. I worked long division faster than the nurses could input the numbers into their calculators.
But the question still loomed, What If Something Goes Wrong? As we walked to the car, I mentally reviewed the training notebook I clutched in my hands. We had numbers to call. We had a sheet that told us symptoms to watch for. We had two different blood glucose monitors and a whole box of insulin, not to mention some 8mm syringes. We even had a red case that carried an emergency super-glucose dose in case Ryan passed out from low blood sugar.
But most of all, we had the assurance of all the trainers and nurses that we really had learned what we needed to know, and that we would do fine. So just as I did when I gave that first shot, I chose to suck it up and get on with it.
Only this time, I was determined not to dig any fence post holes. Metaphorically speaking.