Laura Kuchnicki started working as a pediatric nurse in 2003.  About six years later, she became a foster parent, and is now in the process of adopting her second child.  In this post, Laura tells From the Bedside about how experiences with her own children have given her a deeper appreciation for the medical profession and, especially, the doctors with whom she works.

I came to Children’s in 2007.  I’d worked in another pediatric hospitals in the PICU, but I’d always been most interested in the brain, which is what brought me to SLCH and the pediatric neurology program.

At the time, I had a couple of friends who were foster parents, and I had been thinking, “I have a home, a lot of stability and a great family…why not?”  I didn’t set out to adopt.  I was single at the time, and it wasn’t like my goal was to even just foster infants.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I became a licensed foster parent in August of 2009.

Laura and AnnaI thought I’d have to wait a long time for my first call, but less than 2 months later I got the call for my daughter.  She had just been born a few hours before the call.  I didn’t have daycare set up, didn’t have an infant carseat even .  I mean, most parents have 9 months to plan all of that, but I had less than a day and a half total.  I was terrified, but I said yes.  Two days later, this beautiful baby girl is on my doorstep  and I just remember thinking, “there she is- this is real!”  It felt very surreal, to say the least.  It’s funny how naïve this all sounds now, but I had confidence somehow that everything would work itself out.  It was incredibly hard emotionally, but I was eventually able to adopt her in April 2011, when she was 18 months old.

I started noticing sleep issues with my daughter by the time she became a toddler.  I’m fortunate to work with Dr. Yamada, who just happens to be a pediatric sleep specialist, and one of our best doctors.  So eventually she became a patient of his.

Usually, I’m the person who does all of the calls for them (the doctors), so I’m used to being on the other end of it.  I knew everything that was going to happen, knew the process, but it was still a bit nerve wracking to be on the other side.  Everything is different when you’re the parent.  I kept thinking, “What if he thinks I know more than I really do?  What if he asks me something and I don’t know the answer to it?  What if there’s something going on that I’m not thinking of?”  He was, and is, amazing with his ability to put people at ease, and I was no exception.  I am very grateful for his care and thoughtfulness with my daughter.

Two years after my daughter was placed with me, I accepted placement of another infant.  With him, I had less than 3 hours to prepare.  He was a much more difficult baby than she was.  He had a few medical issues, but nothing too severe just some mild developmental issues.  I chose to have him evaluated by Dr. Mar, another one of our pediatric neurologists who specializes in developmental delay.  She’s been unbelievably gracious in her treatment of my son- very thorough, and excellent at explaining her rationale and thought process with decision making for him.  I trust her judgement immensely, and respect her more than she could know.

Having been on the other side now, I really do think I have a lot more respect and a lot more ability to empathize with the parents of our patients.  Before I had kids, I had no concept of how stressful it is to wait for test results.  It’s not like I was sitting on the edge of my seat biting my nails waiting for lab results, but it does feel like your life is on hold a little until you  have the results.  Even if you totally expected everything would be normal, until you hear it, there’s just that sense of “what if it’s not normal?”  I now think of little things like that day-to-day when I’m at work, and frequently find myself thinking, “what if this were my child?”- I think that helps me empathize better.

Since my kids have been through many of the same tests we put our patients through, and it’s been good for me to be able to use that experience to comfort anxious parents facing tests they’ve often never heard of.  A simple “my son had an EEG.  It was no big deal.  Just a couple of leads stuck on his head for a brief time, and he did fine with it. ”   So if I can’t talk them through the way I did in the old days, I can pull out the, “Hey!  My kid did that too, and here’s how we did it.”   Or comforting a parent whose child is up all night for days on end, and neither the child nor the rest of the family is getting any sleep-since I’ve been through it and can totally understand how that feels, I can use that to help bring the anxiety down a bit, “My daughter goes through phases where for several weeks in a row, she may get four hours or less of sleep a night, and she’s doing okay.  She’s healthy; she’s smart; she still functions.  You’ll get through this too”  You do have to be careful and not make it all about your kid – it should be all about their kid, but I feel like they often appreciate relating to someone who’s experienced something similar.

Laura (far right) with two of the doctors who have treated her children: Dr. Soe Mar (far left) and Dr. Kelvin Yamada (center)

I have always had a lot of respect and admiration for the doctors in our department, and that continues to grow, especially since I have now experienced firsthand what they do for the children that come here for their care.  Our whole department is filled with the best of the best, and I have spent the last 6 years picking their brains about all sorts of different things- patients, disease processes, treatments, my kids’ issues, etc .  They’re all amazing personally and professionally, and I feel lucky to know them.  There’s never been a time when I was concerned that they didn’t take me seriously.  The level of respect and trust we have goes both ways, I think. A perfect example: the other day my daughter collided heads with one my nephews, and she was crying so hard she had a breath-holding seizure.  Since I’m in neurology, I knew what it was.  She was fine afterward, so I didn’t take her to the ER.  The next day I was telling Dr. Yamada about it and he said, “Do you want me to see her?  Do you feel like you need a check?”

I didn’t need to take him up on it, but they do that sort of thing all the time.  They’ve got my back, and they always have.   I wouldn’t take my kids here if I didn’t feel that way.  I could go to another hospital, but I think there’s something really extraordinary about our doctors, and something very special about this hospital.