Blood Pressure Cuffs and Paintbrushes: Insight Gained from Pediatrics

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This post was written by Angelica Recierdo, a third-year nursing student with a minor in English. She has worked/studied at many of the major Boston hospitals and is also a columnist for the Huntington News.

Heartbreaking and funny – two words that could be used in a film review for a romantic comedy, or rather in my case, working in pediatrics.

To me, working with the older adult patient population for my first co-op as a nursing student was the boot camp of medicine. You’re caring for people at the end of their lives that may be bitter, confused, careless, or a little bit of each. It can be draining and surely leaves a novice jaded or with the toughest skin by the end of it.

So when I accepted an offer to work at Boston Children’s Hospital it was a new and exciting venture, a breath of fresh air. I went from working 40 hour weeks consisting of rotating day, evening, and night shifts on a huge 30+ bed inpatient cardiology unit to a comfy and fun 10-bed outpatient infusion clinic. The biggest struggles my new patients faced were missing a day of school, which stuffed animal to play with, and whether their parent was present to hold their hand when the IV catheter got inserted.

The Center for Ambulatory Treatment/Clinical Research is the official name for this infusion clinic serving patients of all ages, backgrounds, and medical histories. A lot of our patients are immunocompromised meaning that they are so severely prone to infection that they need to be infused regularly with intravenous immunoglobulin (otherwise known as antibodies to help support their immune system.) These are the kids that more often times have Purell on their hands rather than Crayola marker.

Another portion of patients have some form of Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD) like Crohn’s or Ulcerative Colitis. I’ll never forget one ten-year-old boy who so openly shared with me that he could not be a firefighter when he grows up because how could he save people if he always had to go to the bathroom? (Kids really say the darndest things).

We also see a lot of Cystic Fibrosis and Cerebral Palsy patients as well. Their bodies protected in high-powered wheelchairs, eyes glossed to one side, with either the most contracted or most flaccid limbs you’ve ever felt. I try to joke with them and have learned that any kind of response like the fluttering of the eyes or a tighter hand grip means they’re listening. Children are always listening and it’s important to always give them something novel to think about.

I find myself laughing in a new way at work. It’s not forced or awkward the way social situations tend to be when interacting with other adults. It’s a genuine chuckle, throwing my head back or slapping my thigh. I find my voice rising to the next octave, trying to gain a toddler’s trust with one hand wielding a blood pressure cuff and the other a paintbrush. So many wonderfully amusing things happen at a children’s hospital.

For example, to electronically document vital signs on a computer application, there is an option that prompts the clinician to choose what position the child is in during the vital signs measurement. The three options are sitting, standing, and supine. But it warms my heart that my biggest worry is figuring out how to chart such movements as dancing, kneeling, crawling, or squirming.

I have learned that it’s important to always remember the time when a decorative Band-Aid covered up pain, when animal crackers and apple juice nourished us, and when a coloring book was sufficient distraction. Working with sick children has taught me ways to cope with profound stress and how to truly make the best of given situations. It’s not normal for a five year old to know where her “good” veins are, but that kind of acceptance and courage is of a caliber that is seen much later in life, or in some, never at all.

Angelica is a third-year nursing student with a minor in English hailing from New Jersey. She has studied or worked in all the major Boston hospitals. Angelica is also a columnist for The Huntington News (http://huntnewsnu.com/?s=angelica+recierdo)  and enjoys writing creative non-fiction. 

Tips for communicating with your boss

Emily Brown is a Career Development intern and a graduate student in Northeastern’s College Student Development and Counseling Program. She is a lifelong Bostonian interested in the integration of social media into the professional realm.  Contact her at e.brown@neu.edu.

Developing good communication with your supervisor can help you get the most out of your work experience and help ensure that you continue to be challenged. Here are some suggestions to cultivate a productive relationship with your supervisor:

  • Ask questions. This is probably the most important lesson I learned in my first job out of college. All of a sudden, I couldn’t fake my way through like I sometimes could on high school or college assignments. Having a general idea of what I was supposed to be working on simply was not enough. I can’t tell you how many sentences I started with “This is probably a stupid question, but…” (spoiler: there are no stupid questions!) because I was uncomfortable with the volume of things I didn’t know that I felt I should know. I asked questions despite my discomfort and found that the answers were often things my supervisor didn’t explain because he took the information for granted. I was surprised how many times his answer to my “stupid question” began with “That’s a good question. I should have explained it to you earlier…” So ask away!

    Image from womenworld.org

  • Express interest in projects that you want to work on. Admittedly, I spent a lot of time filing and making copies in my first weeks at that job. I learned that vaguely asking, “Is there anything I could be working on right now?” does not always produce the desired result (exception: when the desired result is a jammed photocopier and paper cuts). It’s OK to ask about getting involved on a project that interests you. In general, extra help is always welcome and it shows that you are interested in more advanced work. Even if it isn’t feasible for you to get involved on that particular project, your supervisor is now aware of your interest and will appreciate that you took initiative, and will hopefully remember that for similar work in the future.
  • Take constructive feedback in stride. You’re bound to make mistakes in a new job – it’s unavoidable. What will set you apart is how you handle a mistake that your supervisor questions you about. If you’re defensive or emotional, then the conversation will be unpleasant and your supervisor might think twice about assigning you challenging work in the future simply to avoid a similar conversation. If you handle the critique gracefully and ask clarifying questions about what you could do differently next time, your supervisor might be more willing to provide more advanced work and to help you grow professionally.
  • Take communication cues from your supervisor. Building a good professional relationship with a supervisor takes time and it should be noted that it is not solely  up to your supervisor. Yes, he might be the one in charge, but you also need to maintain open lines of communication. That being said, it is important to take cues from your supervisor on his or her preferred communication habits. Is he receptive to unplanned drop-bys? Does she seem to rely more heavily on email? Noticing these preferences and remembering that everyone works differently can go a long way towards achieving productive communication.