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Nursing children in the fast-paced ICU is a 'privilege'

A paediatric critical care nurse shares stories of
Photo: Nursing children in the fast-paced ICU is a 'privilege'
When many people think about working in critical care, they might think about the adrenaline rush of working in situations that unfold rapidly and unpredictably – and they’d be right. But a paediatric critical care nurse has also highlighted the immense privilege she feels in being able to care for children and families when they’re at their most vulnerable.

“One of the things I like most is the difference that you can make in a patient's healthcare journey at an extremely vulnerable time”, said Sally Brown, based in a Sydney hospital.

“In critical care, we've got the potential to make the best of any situation, and an opportunity to have a positive impact in that experience”, Ms Brown told HealthTimes. .

“I find it a real privilege to be involved in caring for patients and their families during that time.”
Ms Brown said there is one story from the critical care unit that will always stay with her as a reminder that she chose the right career path.

“There was an early teenage boy who'd been in quite a serious motor vehicle accident, and we were able to support him to discharge from the intensive care unit.”

“Unfortunately, when he was discharged, he had significant neurological deficits as a result of his injuries.”

Several years later, Ms Brown was working in the ICU when some people approached her.

“A tall teenage boy came up to me and goes, ‘do you remember me?’”

“We often do have families bring their children back to see us, so it’s not unusual, but honestly I did not remember who this child was.”

“But then I looked at his mum, and as soon as I looked at her, everything just came rushing back to me – because I had looked after her child for weeks in the ICU and she had not aged a day since the last time I saw her, which was around four years earlier.”

“I just remembered so many conversations that I'd had with his mum and how engaged she was.”

“I actually remember feeling really sad when this child was discharged from the ICU, and that the mum was going to be taking home a child who was likely to be significantly disabled.”

But what Ms Brown remembered most about those weeks he spent in the ICU was how positive and engaged his mother was throughout his care. 

“She would say ‘as long as I can take my boy home alive, I don’t care, I can work with that – I just need him to come home and I’ll do everything in my power to deal with whatever comes along’”.

“And honestly, I had not expected this child to do this well. I didn’t even know if he’d make it home”, Ms Brown explained.

“He couldn’t talk, he couldn’t move. He had so many deficits and yet here he was, standing up right in front of me, independent with all of his movement.”

“He didn’t even have a crutch or anything like that – he was actively engaged in conversations with me and had this wicked sense of humour.”

“To see him come back, that made me realise why we do what we do.”

The young man’s mother too thanked Ms Brown for not only the care she provided her son, but for how she supported her.

“She said to me ‘I really appreciated the fact that you let me have time to talk about my thoughts and to let you get to know my son through the stories that I told, and just being engaged with that process.’”

Ms Brown said that it does take a certain skill set and attitude to work in critical care.

“Critical care is just an ever-changing environment – it’s a speciality, but also a generalist field as well”.

“What I really like about it is that you see your interventions being done quickly, and then see the effect straight away”, Ms Brown said.

“And I also like the high pace nature that we have and the critical thinking that you need to be prepared for anything and everything.”

When asked about the challenges of being a nurse working in paediatric critical care, Ms Brown said she saw them more as opportunities.

“I'm not really sure that I see them as challenges – or maybe I actually just thrive on the fact that there's constant challenges.”

“With the evolution of health care and critical care, things can change really quickly and we’ve always got new equipment and technology coming in”, Ms Brown added.

“But in that, we’ve got the opportunity to try new ways of doing things based on evidence-based practice, and we're constantly learning and developing our knowledge and skills, and supporting our colleagues, so we can underpin that the best
outcomes for patients and families.”

*Name changed to protect the privacy of the nurse

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Charlotte Mitchell

Charlotte is a published journalist and editor, with 10 years of experience in developing high-quality content for national and international publications.

With an academic background in both science and communications, she specialises in medical and science writing. Charlotte is passionate about creating engaging, evidence-based content that equips the community with important information on issues around healthcare, medicine and research.

Over the years, she has partnered with organisations including the Medical Journal of Australia, Cancer Council NSW, Bupa, the Australasian Medical Publishing Company, Dementia Australia, MDA National, pharmaceutical companies, and state and federal government agencies, to produce high-impact news and clinical content  for different audiences.