The moment I realized critical care nursing wasn’t for me.


I’m going to warn readers that this is a very disturbing experience I had, and if you have a hard time hearing about traumatic experiences, please do not read. For those of you who can, here it goes.

It was a very emotional night. Already physically and emotionally drained from working three 12 hour night shifts in a row, I walked into work that night, not expecting what was to come. I worked in the pediatric intensive care unit , at one of the best children’s hospitals in the United States (I’m not going to mention what hospital, names of patients, etc.) for HIPPA reasons.

We had kids flown to us from other states, to receive care because this is truly one of the best hospitals, for trauma and specific treatments.

When starting this job, I felt powerful, like I was truly making a difference. They started out by pairing me with stable cases, kids who had an anaphylactic reactions to peanuts, asthmatics, or post op surgery cases. This was easy peasy and I felt comfortable in these situations, even if we ran into some issues, I could handle it. These kiddos were fixable, and that was my comfort zone.

This specific night, already running low on energy, we received a call informing us that a child was being flown into our ICU, due to a significant burn. It was around July, so we figured it was firework related. Sure, lots of kids get significant burns, but they end up being okay.

We had a large amount of staff in the room waiting for his arrival. The attending physicians, a fellow, some residents, nursing staff and respiratory therapy were all present and ready to go. All of our fight or flight responses came out. I knew it must of been pretty bad, but I had not yet gotten the full story on what had happened. I was standing in this empty room, with panicking medical professionals surrounding me. My specific job duty with this case, was being the “documenter”. When we try to revive someone,
or do any procedures, everything must be charted very detailed and specifically, so I was focused on doing just that.

After about 30 minutes, our patient arrived, we immediately started adding arterial lines, IV’s, pumping him with fluids and medications to try to increase his blood pressure and a ton of other interventions that I can’t say I remember, due to the pure shock that came over my body after seeing this patient.

Pretty shortly after his arrival, our main attending let us know that the child would not make it, too much damage had been done and his organs were failing, but encouraged us to make the child look as presentable as possible, as the mother was on her way to say her final goodbye to her baby boy. 3 years old.

After this point, we finally got the story on what had happened to this child and pure heartbreak came over me. This is all I can remember feeling. I started to get emotional but had to keep myself together. I had not yet had any children of my own, but I’m the type of person who is compassionate to all of my patients, no matter the age, or the reasoning they come to us. I am a nurse and I am there to care for them, through the good and the bad, always trying to be an advocate, a shoulder to lean on, and someone to provide comfort even in the toughest situations.

To give you a summary of the story, you could call it an “abuse case”, or “murder” in my eyes. A mom with a newborn baby, went out for a few hours with a friend, and left her 3 and 1 year old sons at home with her boyfriend (the father of her newborn). I have no idea the mental state the man was in, or if he was doing drugs at the time, none of that really matters now.

The man barricaded himself and the two children into their house, boarding up all of the windows and doors tightly. What next? He lit the house on fire to intentionally kill these children. As neighbors called 911, after realizing there was a fire in their home, EMS, the fire department, and police were on their way to the scene.

Typically firefighters can quickly get into a burning house and grab anyone inside and a lot of times we see good outcomes, if they are able to get to them quickly. In this particular situation, the man had so tightly boarded up any entrance in the home, that it was not easy getting to the children. The damage was done. This man planned this scenario out, and he accomplished what he was trying to accomplish.

When the flight team got to the young boys, they were both alive, but barely hanging on. The man had killed himself in the home after setting it on fire. He escaped the pain by, “taking the easy way out”, while the children had to suffer the worst burns you can imagine, organs shutting down from the amount of smoke inhaled, and their condition was not promising.

After arriving to us, the one year old, was pronounced dead in our ER. The three year old was sent to us in the PICU, where again I explained we did all interventions possible but were unsuccessful. After determining that the child would not make it, me and another nurse did what our attending physician instructed us to do.

My body went numb while cleaning this boy up, to make him look presentable for his final goodbyes with his momma. How can you make this situation less painful for her? You can’t. We did all we could do, we cleaned him up, we put a teddy bear in his arms, and while waiting for his moms arrival, I sat next to his bed just holding his hand. He was clearly unresponsive, but I wanted him to know he was not alone, and momma was on her way.

After awhile his mother arrived to his room, and dropped to the floor after getting the news that he would not make it. Our nursing staff was there to comfort her as much as possible, and we gave her some personal time to be with her son before it was his time to go. This was the most heart breaking thing I have ever experienced. It made me realize that critical care nursing was not for me.

Many people say if your a critical care nurse, you have to be emotionless. I have to agree to an extent about this. I give props to nurses who thrive in this environment, but it was not for me.

I still think about this boy frequently, and still have flashbacks about that experience. I still think about his mommas pain, and the amount of pain he and his brother endured because of someone else’s selfishness. I think about if I did enough to comfort this mother during this time. I think about and try to understand how someone could intentionally do this to another human being, especially a child. This will never be understood.

I shortly removed myself from this environment to save myself from further feelings of depression and anxiety that the environment was giving me. It takes a special person to work in critical care, but unfortunately that person was not me. I can’t deny that I have intelligence to do so, but my mental and physical health had taken a toll, and I needed to do what was right for me.

This story is very deep, so I’ve kept it bottled up for a few years, but I hope this can allow people to give more credit to nurses. We are not “just a nurse“.

We are educators, advocates, care takers, therapist, pretty much superheroes wearing scrubs, and so much more.

❤ Jess

One comment

  1. Some patients will forever remain on your mind and in your heart. Although my nursing career has just begun, I am honored to say I have spent the last 10 years as a tech with oncology patients. I will never understand fully how these families deal with the cards dealt to them. I’m certain you made an impact on that Momma.

    Liked by 1 person

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