Thursday, 15 November 2012

Learning from tragedy

There's a page I have followed for the last few weeks on Facebook, updated by a family who have a little boy named Caden. He's 6 and they live just outside Glasgow. Caden went from being a bit unwell to having Meningococcal Septicaemia in a few hours. He has been in Intensive Care at Yorkhill hospital for the last 3 weeks. Caden has lost both his legs and one of his arms to this disease. His body only functions when he is pumped full of drugs, and when machines and technology do almost all of the work. He is as sick as it is possible to be. His dad posts updates every day of how he is doing, how his brothers are coping, of what it is like to feel the depths of pain and heights of elation every single day.

His dad is so eloquent, explains his pain and vulnerability in terms that break your heart and make you want to read more simultaneously. I cry at his updates most days. One of the most incredible things about Caden's dad's posts, aside from his astonishing strength, is the insight he is able to give into how families feel when they are at the bedside in hospital. For nurses, this is an astonishingly frank lesson in how we work with our families.

I have seen parents cope with a child in hospital in hundreds of different ways. Some get angry and shout and blame someone (usually the GP), some cry relentlessly, some are grey, detached and silent (for some reason I worry about them the most), some are cheerful and practical until a reasonable time approaches for them to fall apart. I have never really been able to understand, only offer whatever comfort I could (9 times out of 10 this involves a hug, then babysitting long enough to let them get a cup of tea in peace). Caden's family have granted us access into the mindset of the family of a seriously ill child, to understand what is required of us and how we should go about it. 

I feel like these posts signpost how to be a better nurse. To listen, to show kindness and love to my patients, to be calm and chatty and sociable but understand when a family needs silence. To treat my patient like their child- an individual with a history and a future. To be unshakable when all around is crumbling. It seems like such a herculean task but I know nurses (and support workers and domestics and students) who do this everyday. I want to be someone who can provide excellent care to a family, no matter how dark the journey.

I shall continue to say a prayer for Caden, his family and his amazing team at Yorkhill each day. They desperately need it.

UPDATE- sadly Caden passed away in his parents' arms on the 20th November. All thoughts with his family, friends and the staff who will have grown to love him in his time at Yorkhill.


  1. This is a really beautiful post.

    From my experience as a patient when I was in hospital I found the nurses who just did stuff so much better than the ones that asked do you need something? can I get something? ... the ones that topped up water/helped move IV lines when you moved and so on just because they could see it needed doing made a big difference. When you're in pain, you don't always know what you need or even have the energy to think about it- you're so consumed with feeling like shit that a bit of initiative goes a long way!

    I'm sure you'll be a great nurse!

    1. It's such a hard balance with paediatric nursing- being proactive, which (if I'm really honest is easier for us) versus letting families keep some control over normal family life and helping them feel empowered and involved. This can change for every parent from minute to minute, it's a tough judgement call, and not one I always get right.

      I do miss nursing- not very easy to transfer my degree to the US (though not impossible, just expensive!) so it's off the cards for a while. I'll be back though!


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