Friday, November 9, 2007

Hell Is For Children

I think parents take the blame too much for what happens to children. Mothers are especially picked on. Every mother has had the experience of unsolicited advice, comments on her choices and warnings that what she is doing will damage her children for life. Letting your child have a piece of candy before dinner once in a while is not going to hurt them. Letting them sit too close to the television won't hurt their eyes. Eating Pop Rocks and drinking Coke won't make their stomachs explode. If they cross their eyes they won't get stuck that way.

I've had experiences during nursing school where I was initially shocked by something but eventually became desensitized. I don't know if I'll ever get over what I saw today. I'm still haunted by it. I need to put it somewhere and process it. This seemed like as good a place as any.

Our clinical rotation was in an acute care hospital for children. Some of the children were there because of an accident; a child pushed down by a playmate and hits his head on the ground; a child with Down's syndrome; still another who suffered from a bacterial illness with a high fever that caused inflammation and swelling. These things happen and my heart goes out to the parents whom I am sure are suffering a great deal.

What I can't get over is the number of children who are there because the parents didn't take 5 minutes to make sure their child was buckled into a car seat. A large percentage of the children in this hospital were in this category. It is so senseless to me that these children will never wake up, never be off a ventilator, never run and play, never say their first words, or if they said them they are forever silenced. For some it is a cultural belief that car seats are an unneccesary expense. When your religion says you have to have all the babies God intended you to have, a car seat does seem like an extravagance. Does your religion intend for your baby to be forever broken and smashed? Your religion doesn't want you to use artificial means to avoid pregnancy, yet when your child cannot breath on his own you insist we use every artificial means invented by humans to keep the child alive.

Yet another child is there because she found her parents'crack stash and ate it. A beautiful baby with the biggest eyes and the longest lashes is forever brain damaged because her parents addiction meant more to them then their child's well-being. Long ago I learned to accept that for addicts their addiction is always first. It is heartbreaking but easier to get on with life once you know that. Today though, I am having a hard time accepting it. An adult can make the choice whether or not they want to have an addict in his or her life. This baby had no choice. This baby came into the world helpless and dependent on the people around her to make the right choices to keep her safe. She didn't get to choose. She couldn't leave her home and find some new parents who were better equipped to keep her safe and to put her needs before their own.

I am not so concerned about my tax dollars paying to care for them for years on end. Part of being a civilized culture means we care for people and do what we can to keep them alive. It's what separates us from animals. I am not so concerned that we have the technology to keep people alive beyond what is practical or useful. Those are ethical concerns that I am willing to let other people fuss over and evaluate. If I wanted to make it my business to worry about tax dollars or who gets to live or die, I would have run for office or joined the clergy. No. I am in the business of giving patient care to the best of my ability.

Nursing students have to go through the process of learning to put their personal feelings aside when it comes to patient care. We deal with people of different races, classes and sexual orientations than our own. If we are to be effective at what we do, we learn to put our feelings aside, at least temporarily, or come to some understanding of these strange, new people we may never encounter in our lives otherwise. If we never travel outside our own small circle, it comes as a shock when we find that some people would rather buy cigarettes than food if they can't afford to have both. We may have never met a person who doesn't go to their doctor's appointments are pick up their prescriptions because they don't have transportation - and no one in their circle does either. If we don't know people like that, it's easy to judge them from our cozy, comfortable perspective.

But I don't know if I could ever deal with the constant tragedy of parents who put their children's lives in danger. I might eventually learn to deal with it, just the same way I learned to be okay with the sight of blood and the smell of feces. This challenge is one I don't feel ready to take on just yet. I'm too heartbroken and angry today.


FetchingGal said...

Hell is nursing, some days. Crap from management, crap from instructors, crap from colleagues whose asses you have covered and from some who have covered yours, crap from patients who won't comply, won't listen... no way can I look after peds patients without crying my eyes out. Takes a tough cookie to work there. I hate even watching kids getting induced in the OR.

License Pending said...

I don't think peds is for me. I'd want to beat the crap out of the parents.

I have noticed that nurses have to take a lot of crap. For a minute it made me want to quit, but I've sort of gotten over it. I'm developing communication skills that let patients and families know that you are really an asshole and I wish you'd let me do my job. It's weird but the patients I've chewed out for something or other wind up loving me later. How f'ed up is that?