The other morning, I stumbled into my condo after a long 12 hour night shift, and as exhausted as I was, I could not seem to close my eyes and fall asleep. I was caught up thinking about the shift my coworkers and I had just experienced. And while some are less eventful than others, this night was one of the eventful ones.
I felt like my emotions were on a never ending rollercoaster of big ups and big downs. You see, being a NICU nurse is far more than a “job in the medical field.” You’ve read the articles. You’ve heard the stories and seen the pictures. The NICU isn’t like other hospital units. It’s a tiny little world of miracles and heartbreaks and victories and setbacks and sad tears and happy tears. Of relationship building and growing trust and teamwork and collaboration. It’s literal blood, sweat, & tears. It’s pouring your heart and soul into the heart and soul of a tiny little micro-person and their family as if you were trying to save the life of your very own child.
And in the 12 hours I was there that particular night, it was all of those things for us. I passed out tissues to happy parents, and I passed out tissues to sad parents. Our eyes welled up with happy tears, and our eyes welled up with sad tears. Because that’s what a day in the life is like in the NICU.
In honor of Neonatal Intensive Care Awareness Month, I want to give people a glimpse into the absolutely incredible world of the NICU and what a shift might look like. I don’t say this to brag on myself or any of our other nurses or medical team and staff (even though I work with the most AMAZING group of nurses and doctors on the planet), but to draw attention to the absolutely amazing job we have the honor of doing. And also to try and give a visual of the ins and outs of a job that, for whatever reason, is unusually hard to explain to people when they ask, “So what do you actually do at work besides feed and change babies?” (because NICU nurses looove when people ask that. ha!)
This particular shift started out with one of our babes getting their angel wings so very soon after their grand entrance onto planet earth. Sad tears. But just a few hours later, and in a completely different swatch of emotions, I teared up with the happiest tears as I introduced a very sweet, very super surprised couple to their brand new baby, and beaming, handed the tiny patient to her new adoptive parents for the very first time. The prayer they had prayed for actual years was suddenly placed (quite literally) in their laps and it was absolute love at first sight for the new mama and papa as this little 6lb bundle of sugar melted right into her new mamas arms. (And can I just say real quick — adoption is AMAZING!)
And after those celebration tears wore off, and just as soon as we thought the night was (maybe!) calming down briefly, one of our tiny superheroes began the ultimate fight for his life. It was like the flip of a switch watching this perfectly pink baby fade into a blueish purple, lifeless little pile as his bedside nurse and medical team began intervention after intervention after intervention, rapidly working together to try and reverse whatever was causing his body to give up. All the while his mommy sat at the bedside, helpless, tears rolling down her cheeks as she looked on at her little babe working as hard as he could to hang on. And then her husband walked in…a sobbing MESS after receiving the call to get to the hospital ASAP. Cue sad tears for us. It’s moments like these where being a nurse becomes second to being a human. It’s in these moments where I simply have to look up for 2 seconds and ask Jesus to just be near. Because I don’t know what else to do. More tissues.
And then it happened. A collective deep breath let out as we all watched the magic intervention that finally worked. The purpley-blue toned baby transformed to a beautiful shade of pink again, his numbers on the monitor began to normalize…and more tears. But this time happy tears. Relief. More tissues.
All the while, we are making sure the other 40-something babies who’s monitors were alarming, who forgot to breath here and there (because #preemiethings), who lost their binkies and just wanted them back, who needed new IVs, and some who simply needed to be held and rocked so as to not be overcome by their withdrawal symptoms, were all taken care of. You name it, we’ve probably seen it. And even then, we love it.
Being a NICU nurse (or any part of the NICU team) is more than a job. It is parents giving you an actual piece of their heart and saying, “I trust you to care for this piece of me.” It’s a calling. An honor. A privilege.
Happy Neonatal Intensive Care Awareness Month to my coworkers and to the many tiny people (and their parents) who have left their mark(s) in the furthest corners of my heart. I am so honored and so thankful to get to do what I do.