A day in the life of a NICU nurse
In honor of World Prematurity Day in 2015, Kim Vuckovich, a nurse in the Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill., offers a glimpse into her day caring for babies, many who are born premature.
My days are never the same, and I never know what I am walking into. As soon as the Nenonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) doors open, I can hear the alarms of the monitors from one room, the sound of a mother crying in the next and the sound of joy as a baby has just finished his first bottle in another.
Because the babies I care for are fragile, life can change on a dime. We tell parents who are new to the NICU experience that their child’s NICU course is just like a rollercoaster, with both highs and lows that can change in a mere minute.
Today, I am riding that roller coaster with a family as their 24-week-old baby struggles to keep her oxygen saturations up. I am not only caring for this tiny infant, but also the stressed, concerned, yet hopeful parents. It is my job to give the parents and families the education that they need so that they can make educated decisions in their baby’s care.
I am also caring for a baby born with an imperforated anus, a condition where the baby’s rectum did not form properly, and I am cheering for his very first poopy diaper. Not every nurse cheers for a poopy diaper, but NICU nurses definitely do.
As a NICU nurse, I am here to partner with parents so their baby can have the best possible outcome. I share their tears on bad days, give them the confidence to change their baby’s tiny diaper, reassure them it will be okay, yet I am honest with them when it won’t be. And sometimes, I have the heartbreaking responsibility of disconnecting the tubes and wires to let them hold and kiss their baby for the very last time.
Not all the babies I care for are premature; others are born with congenital heart disease, congenital anomalies, respiratory distress, or their mom was infected with an illness and passed the germ on to them.
In a typical day, I am responsible for a multitude of items: assessments and patient care, blood draws, IV starts, medication administration, feedings and assisting in bedside surgeries and procedures. I am responsible for providing developmental care of the premature or sick baby. This includes providing care at one time, such as changing diapers, feeding, bathing and other tasks, which is called cluster care. I also teach parents exactly how to touch their baby so their nervous systems doesn’t become distressed. I am responsible for rounding with the interdisciplinary team and helping to formulate a plan of the day for the babies I care for. I will also assist in resuscitation of high-risk deliveries.
But, most importantly, I am responsible for someone else’s child, and I treat that baby as I would my own. That is an enormous responsibility that I am honored to have.
I work with an amazing team, from the physicians, neonatal nurse practitioners, occupational therapists, speech language pathologists, physical therapists and respiratory therapists, to my awesome fellow nurses. I am never alone. I am surrounded by people who always have my back, someone to bounce ideas off of, colleagues who always know when I haven’t eaten in 12 hours so they sneak me a cookie. I even have people at work who are always there to cheer me on the good days and hug me and raise me up on the bad days.
Some days, I carry out orders for discharge, making certain the families are perfectly comfortable taking home their bundle of joy. Most of these families are like family to me. I have been with them from the first moments when they were too scared to touch their baby. I shared all the hills and valleys of the NICU with them, and in the end, I make certain that they are confident as they go home. I am so very proud of them and sometimes cry like I am watching my own child leave for college.
On some occasions, I help throw a birthday party for the one year old that is still waiting to go home. Providing normal moments like these for families makes all the difference.
At the end of the day, I go home exhausted – some days a little more than others – and usually with at least 10,000 steps on my Fitbit. However, as exhausted as I may be, I know I made a difference. I love my patients and I can’t wait to come back.
About the Author
Kim Vuckovich, BSN, RNC-NIC, is a nurse in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Advocate Children's Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill.