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Sara Cerreta, BSN, RN, CCRN, Nu’18,

In my undergraduate experience at Penn, even from the very beginning, we learned about family-centered care, and how to incorporate our patients and their families into every aspect of the medical care they receive. 

We learned how socioeconomic status, race, religion, and culture all shape someone’s life, and how important it is to be inclusive, to truly advocate and be our patients’ voices. As a pediatric cardiac ICU nurse, this is especially important for me to practice, because my patients usually aren’t able to speak for themselves, and parents/ families need to be consistently in the loop and involved with the sick children I work with. A lot can change for this patient population in a day, let alone in minutes. It can be overwhelming and can be a lot to process for families.

I’ve always worked the nightshift, which I remember in undergrad saying I would NEVER consider doing. However, I learned that as the bedside nurse for some incredibly sick children, parents and families become reliant on me to take care of their son or daughter in the most vulnerable time of their lives. It has become a great responsibility I take pride in having. One story, in particular, will always remind me of this.

I was taking care of a two-day-old infant with hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS), immediately post-op from his Norwood-Sano procedure, one of several palliative heart surgeries these patients receive before the age of 3. The father was at the bedside, completely overwhelmed, not knowing what questions to ask, or where to start in understanding how his son was doing after the surgery. He confided in me, saying he felt he couldn’t bother the dayshift team when his son first came back from surgery because there was so much going on, so many tubes and lines and numbers on the screen, he felt too overwhelmed to ask what anything meant.

My heart sank and I really felt for him. This was his first child, and his wife, the son’s mother, was still in the hospital herself, recovering from a cesarean section. He informed me she held him for all of a few seconds after birth, but he never even held his son before he was transferred to Children’s.

I started off by asking him what he felt he understood with the surgical procedure and started to fill in some gaps for him. I walked him through every line, tube, and drain. I explained to him our monitors, what the numbers meant, and our parameter goals and why we wanted them to be that way. I explained our pain management plan for his son. I also explained to him that despite the fact he was intubated with an open chest, he still could rub his head, hold his hand, and talk to him. His son might look scary right now, and he might feel helpless, but he is still a father, and he could still tell him he was there for him.

At the end of our conversation, he thanked me and said he was grateful I was there to take care of his son, especially so he could sleep and know he was cared for. I’ll never forget that, and hearing it has always instilled the responsibility of working nightshift, and I’ll never turn back. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to help children and their families in this way, even if it takes several cups of coffee and an irregular sleep schedule to do so.

To submit your own story, visit www.nursing.upenn.edu/humans.