Brittany Richardson began working as a nurse at St. Louis Children’s Hospital while she was also finishing her master’s degree. She’s now a pediatric nurse practitioner with Washington University School of Medicine on the hematology/oncology unit at Children’s. When she was still a bedside nurse, Brittany met Carter and his family. She tells From the Bedside about the impact he made on her life, and the difference he continues to make for the patients she treats today.
I have heard people say, “Once you’re born and bred heme/onc, you’re always heme/onc.” I think it’s really true. Once you enter this profession and get to know our kids and their families, they become a part of you, and your life changes forever.
I met Carter after I began working on the 9th floor. He was undergoing treatment for relapsed leukemia. I got assigned to take care of him several times, and I absolutely fell in love with both Carter and his family. He was spunky and absolutely adorable. He was full of joy and giggles, and his family was accepting of me and grew to trust me as their nurse.
I can vividly recall a CD that we would play over and over again in his room. It contained a song that had been written just for him containing his name and lots of things about Carter that made him Carter. We would sing it over and over again. I’d always joke with his mom that after a night shift, I would wake up singing that song!
The nurses knew the names of all of the stuffed animals that would share his bed. They had personalities. So when you were taking care of Carter, you were also taking care of PupPup and his other fuzzy friends. He had special blankets too, and we all knew to make sure that Carter’s feet remained poking ever so slightly out of the blankets. (This became so important in Carter’s final days with us.) I knew that his mother and father loved that the nurses knew these things about him. I think that demonstrating our willingness to go the extra mile to make Carter feel at home meant so much to his family. I also think that knowing the names of stuffed animals is one of the many joys of being a pediatric nurse!
Carter had a lot of serious complications and became very ill. This was an extremely scary time for his family, but they graciously allowed the 9th floor staff to care for them and provide them with support so that they could focus on being with Carter. Every shift I spent caring for Carter – even the difficult ones – provided me with so much joy and admiration for the strength that their family had. Carter was always smiling, even on the difficult days. I hope that if I were going through what he went through, that I would be as happy and as delightful as he was.
The 9th floor staff is unlike any other. We truly want to do what’s best for our patients and families and want to get to know them. We do not simply just want to know your name…it’s more than that. We want to know what you like to eat or drink when nothing else sounds appealing. How do you want me to arrange the stuffed animals in your bed when I make your bed each day? What corny jokes can I tell to make you laugh when you aren’t feeling well? It is those little things that our floor tries to understand about our patients so that we can make this floor feel like home – because for so many of our kids, this is their home for awhile.
You hear a lot of families say, “you’re like our new family now.” We value that so much. Not everyone is drawn to this profession. It truly takes a special heart. For me, working in the field of pediatric hematology/oncology is not a job – it’s a calling and a passion, and it’s almost truly sacred. People hear that you work with children with cancer and they say, “how sad and depressing.” I think that statement couldn’t be further from the truth! There are moments of sadness and moments of grief, but with those come so many moments of joy and happiness. It is an honor to walk with a family during such a time of crisis in their life.
Carter spent his final days in our wonderful Intensive Care Unit. I would often go visit him before and after shifts to spend time with his family and provide a familiar face. There were many times that I just quietly sat near Carter and held his hand, or I simply just fluffed his blanket so that his tiny toes were peeking out a bit – just like he always liked them to be. Carter’s journey ended there, but his warm spirit and loving personality lives on with me and the other staff members who knew him well. I think we can all say that we are better nurses after caring for him.
I am so proud and honored to do what I do. My work isn’t always easy, but it is absolutely always worth it. The families I have met have changed my life and have made me the nurse that I am today. Isn’t it amazing that, while going through the hardest time in one’s life, one is able to teach someone so much about love, gratitude, and hope? That is exactly what Carter and his family did for me. I smile every time I think of him – especially when Carter’s song pops into my head. That is one song with a tune and lyrics I will treasure forever and certainly will not ever forget.