Last week I didn’t get a lunch break.
And I really didn’t mind.
The reason that I didn’t get my break was because on my way out to the staff room I was caught by the parents of one of the babies I was looking after. They were very apologetic but wondered if I would be able to arrange for one of the doctors to come and speak to them about their son’s progress and prognosis.
The doctors were less than halfway through what was likely to be a very long ward round and so I explained that I would arrange for a doctor to come and speak to them as soon as one was free but in the meantime would they like me to try and answer their questions? They explained that they’d still be more than welcome to speak to a doctor afterwards but maybe I could help straighten a few things out in their minds first?
We went at sat next to their little boy’s incubator and they told me that while everyone on the unit had been brilliant and had kept them informed as to what was happening there were some things they weren’t sure about and the thing that was worrying them the most was what the future held for their son.
I talked with these parents for over an hour, starting right at the beginning with their son’s traumatic birth to make sure that they understood everything that had happened and that the doctors had given them enough information at the time. I explained all the treatments we’d given and the reasons why we’d used them, the tests that we’d done and what those had shown.
I made sure that they were happy with each chunk of information before I moved onto the next one and that I’d answered any specific questions or defined specific words and phrases that they were unsure about.
Mum was happy to sit and listen to what I had to say but Dad needed to ask questions after each point I made. He apologised repeatedly for asking so many questions and for interrupting but I explained that I understood; his little boy had been very ill and as his daddy he had every right to know what was happening.
That everyone processes information in different ways and that this whole conversation was for their benefit and so to do or say or ask whatever he needed to.
That I’d been on both sides; as a mummy to a sick little boy and as a nurse and that I’d felt the same fear and worry and helplessness as they did now.
I told him about my much used mantra ‘There’s no such thing as a stupid question’ which is completely true. It doesn’t matter if parents ask me the same question once, twice or twenty times; if my answer makes them feel better then how can the question be stupid?
The only time I feel annoyed by being asked the same question over and over is when the parents don’t like the answer I’ve given and keep asking in the hope that I’ll change my mind and give them a different answer. I always answer questions truthfully and I know that some of the time the answers are difficult to hear but there isn’t a magic number of times to ask a question so that you get an answer that you like better.
As I talked I could see the parents visibly relaxing as each of their fears were recognised and answered. I told them how their little boy was improving every day and that both me and the doctors were really pleased with his progress. I explained how things that we had initially been concerned about were resolving themselves with minimal medical intervention and I made sure that I emphasised the many positive things that I’d seen over the past couple of days.
Once I was sure that they were satisfied with my explanations about everything that had happened and that we’d done I went on to talk to them about the future and what effect their son’s difficult start to life could have. I explained that although we’d conducted various tests we couldn’t be certain about any lasting effects of the birth trauma and that to an extent it would be a case of ‘wait and see’.
I told them about the consultant follow up clinics and community team support that was available to them; that we wouldn’t just discharge them home to face the future and any uncertainties alone and that if they had any worries or concerns they would know exactly who to contact.
However, what I could and did tell them that although none of us knew exactly what the future would bring and that we couldn’t guarantee that their son wouldn’t have any health or development issues we did know for certain that their little boy had not suffered a catastrophic brain injury.
He would not spend the rest of his life battling with severe disabilities as we had earlier feared.
Mum and Dad’s eyes filled with tears.
I’d been able to tell them what they needed to hear.
Dad started talking, the words falling out of his mouth in a rush as he told me about their normal pregnancy followed by the terrifying birth which ended with their son arriving in the middle of the night, desperately unwell and then being whisked off to the neonatal unit.
He talked and talked, needing to get the words out so that I could reassure him that none of the things that had occupied his every waking minute since their son had been born were actually going to happen.
I knew that whatever the outcome had been for their little boy they would have loved him regardless and that ultimately all they wanted was to be able to take him home but now they could look forward to the future that they’d planned before his birth had gone so very wrong.
The parents couldn’t stop thanking me even though all I’d done was summarise what had happened and the treatments already given.
I said that ward round should be finished now and that I would find a doctor for them to speak to but they told me that there was no need; I’d answered all their questions, given them all the information they were hoping for and had given them the best news they’d had since their little boy had been born.
Gone was the concern etched into their faces and the anxiety and their voices now that they knew that the worst hadn’t happened.
Instead they talked about the nursery they’d decorated, the friends and relatives who were looking forward to meeting their little one and why they’d chosen his name.
I love my job.