Paul Spears grew up in Kansas City, and received his Bachelors of Science in Nursing degree from the University of Kansas in 2010. As of September 2011, though, he’s called St. Louis home. Shortly after he began working as a nurse in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit (CICU) at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, he began caring for Ryleigh, a little girl born with a congenital heart defect called Tetralogy of Fallot. He tells From the Bedside what that experience meant to him, and what Ryleigh and her family taught him about his profession.
I knew I wanted to go into healthcare at a young age. In seventh grade I had the opportunity to go to Romania on a medical mission trip with my father. From that point on, I knew I what I wanted to do.
I’ve been a nurse for three years, and I’ve learned it’s a hard line to balance because we try not to get too, too attached. In our line of work, there’s always a chance that they’re not going to make it. But at the same time, you do have to let go and give yourself to the family because you feel that they need it. I tell friends and family all the time that half the reason why I do this is to help the family.
One patient that I really connected with – patient and family – was Ryleigh. She was admitted here shortly after birth. I came on during a night shift, and she just had surgery that day. It was kind of a rocky start. There were a few times that night where she didn’t quite completely code, but we had to bag her out to get her stats back up. It was just kind of touch and go for awhile. And I followed her pretty much from that point on.
She was from Illinois, so her family is two-and-a-half hours away from home, their family can’t come in very often because they’re still working, living their lives, while Ryleigh’s parents are here dealing with a sick child. So you’re their shoulder to cry on, their support – everything.
I remember distinctively, there was one day where a friend was taking care of them, and asked if I could come in and talk to them because they were very frustrated. I walked into the room and could feel the tension. I talked to them, just patted them on the back, assured them everything was going to be all right, encouraged them to relax – even though it’s hard – but you’re here for your child. Everything else will get taken care of after that. It put them at ease. Families in these situations, they’re mad at themselves, they’re mad at what’s going on, they’re mad at the doctors – they’re mad at everything, because they’ve got all this stress and all of this pressure added onto them. I’ve realized how to approach people in a situation where they’re frustrated, where they’re not happy with the situation, and put people at ease without putting blame elsewhere, just letting them chill.
They trusted me, and that made everything else easier. It comes with being in pediatrics. It is a part of my job to help the family as well as help the patient. For me it’s one in the same, because it’s their child.
Originally, I wanted to go to medical school and become a surgeon. But as I got into college, I realized nursing was a better fit for me, because it’s a little more personal. I think that’s what I enjoy about being a nurse is that you’re right there at the bedside with the patient and with the family, so you’re their first line of defense or their first line of communication between doctors and other healthcare workers. That’s what drew me to nursing.
Ryleigh’s family would always make fun of me because I’d explain stuff to them in our terminology, and that would mean nothing to them. It is a totally different language, and for me to explain and portray everything that is happening with their daughter, you have to translate.
I actually carry a picture of me holding Ryleigh as she is getting ready to leave the day she was being discharged from the hospital. I carry that with me in my backpack, because it was kind of a unique experience. It was a really touch and go situation for the first 48-72 hours, and then had complications along the way. But in the months they were here, I got to really connect with the family and got to help them through the tough times.
It’s hard. I’ve had it where I’ve connected with a family, and they have lost a child. You cry almost as much as they do, because you become like their family member while they’re here. Then I’ve had patients like Ryleigh who leave and are doing well. When you see the ones that do make it out – that’s what makes it worthwhile for me. That’s why I enjoy what I do. There’s a lot more good that comes out of most of these situations than bad.
Seeing her come back and laughing, that’s what’s made nursing such a rewarding job for me. Seeing the kids that were so sick, that you didn’t know if they would make it, come back and be smiling with their parents – it’s a miracle, and it’s truly a blessing to see it come full circle.