‘It’s hard to know your hands were the beating heart for a child who is no longer alive.’

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She came in sick. Really sick. They all do. But her? She was a particularly sick child. She was getting worse by the minute. Her parents brought her in at a good time, they didn’t wait too long.

When we get an admission on our unit (Pediatric Intensive Care Unit), it’s like a well practiced routine. Vitals, report, plan of action. We got her vitals, listened to her report, and the brainstorming began. Fluids were given, meds were pushed. I was new, but the health care team wasn’t. I watched, waited, listened, and did.

Vein after vein, IV lines were attempted. A special line to give medication straight to the heart was successfully placed after a couple of tries. We spent hours in that tiny room, crouched over her crib.

Fluids, meds, ultrasounds, scans, sterile procedures. We tried it all. Because that’s what we do. You try what is best, and if that doesn’t work, you try something new. We. Don’t. Give. Up. There’s a part of everyone who works in health care that’s the same, the part that refuses to give up. Maybe we love a little too hard, and hope a little too much. We get attached – it’s inevitable. We see someone hurting, someone sick, and we have to get involved. It’s a part of us that you just can’t strip away. It’s a part of our identity. It’s who we are, and why we do it. And it’s why we keep doing it, even after the pain, and the loss.

The code alarm went off that afternoon. The sound that makes everyone drop what they are doing and sprint towards a room. The sound that gave me nightmares for the first few months. The sound that means to expect the worst.

And so I sprinted. We were ready. We’ve done it hundreds of times. Each of us has a role, we all know it, we all start it. I’m new, but the team isn’t. The doctor takes the lead, making orders, ensuring everything is being done. A nurse to push the meds, a nurse to feel the pulse. A pharmacist drawing up medicine, the respiratory therapist bagging the child. One tech drawing labs, another performing chest compressions. And me, standing next in line for compressions.

I’ve practiced it dozens of times, been trained over and over on the technique. But there is no way to really be prepared for physically putting your hands on the chest of a person and forcing their heart to beat. Two minutes was up and it was my turn. We switched on a pulse check, and the second they said, “No pulse, continue compressions,” my body moved into autopilot and I started my role. The other tech was coaching me, commenting on my recoil and depth, making sure I was going fast enough. Training took over and I did what I had to do. Two minutes later we switched again.

$13.31. That’s how much I make an hour. Because I’m ‘JUST a Certified Nursing Assistant.’

It’s hard. You can’t think about it. You have to focus on your job until it’s done. And so, while I waited, I watched, focusing on the technique and pace, making sure I was ready to imitate when it was my turn. And then it was, and I let my training take over once again. I watch my hands, memorizing their movement, because the second I look away, I’m going to look at their face, and you can’t look at their face while you are doing chest compressions. You just can’t.

It was during that round of compressions the doctor turned to talk to the parents. To tell them there was nothing more we could do. It was then we were told to stop everything, and the time of death was called. It was then that the parents’ hearts were crushed as they fell to the floor in pain. It was then that I heard some of the most painful cries I’ve ever heard.

We quickly and quietly moved our things to let the parents have time alone. The strange thing about after a code, is we don’t have time to stop and think about what just happened. There are still sick people and we still have to do our jobs. And doing my job was the only thing that kept me from crying at work that day. Everyone checks on you after a code, because no matter how long you knew the child, or how long the code took or how it went – it. is. hard. It’s hard to know that despite the team’s best efforts, a child still died. It’s hard to know your hands were the beating heart for a child who is no longer alive. It’s hard, and it sucks. It really sucks. For the parents, for the family, for us.

I sat in my car and cried that day for a long time. I cried for the child, for the loss, and for the pain of that family. I cried for all of us who spent so much time trying to save that child, and I cried for myself, and for the very real pain I was feeling that day. I learned more lessons about life in that one day than I ever have before. And every time I put my hands on a person and am their beating heart, every time I walk past a room where a person is about to die, every time I come to work and hear of a child that has passed away, I cry. It might not be a lot, but it’s what I do. It’s how I feel and how I care. It’s who I am. No matter how long I’ve known them, no matter my role in their life, I hurt, and that’s okay.

Kirsten Buttars

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kirsten Buttars, a CNA who works for a children’s hospital in Utah. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.

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