The Other Side of the Bed

The Other Side of the Bed

From Chicken Soup for the Nurse's Soul Second Dose

The Other Side of the Bed

My friends are my estate.

Emily Dickinson

It was the scariest day of my life. I sat next to the bed listening to the “beeps” of my newborn son’s heartbeat. The ultrasound tech kept very quiet, but I had seen enough echocardiograms as a thoracic ICU nurse to know. I looked away from the screen and gasped back a sigh and a cry. The results were confirmed when the pediatrician stepped in and said that our son, Carson, had been born with four heart defects. I felt all the strength in my own heart slip away.

As I called my husband with the results, I realized that my place as a critical care nurse was about to change: I was moving to the other side of the bed.

I was used to being the one in control, the nurse who fixed things, who could rally in an emergency, who could do something. I couldn’t do anything now but wait for six months until Carson had gained enough weight, or deteriorated enough, for the surgery to be performed.

So we waited. As Carson’s skin color slowly became blue, I controlled everything I could. We researched and handpicked the surgeon, anesthesiologist, perfusionist, and hospital. We were ready, or so I thought.

On a Friday when three of my best friends and their children were at my home, the phone call came. Carson’s most recent results showed he was declining more rapidly than we thought and the surgery needed to be moved up, fast.

“Oh, one more thing,” the nurse added. “We need O positive, CMV negative blood donated for him.”

What? How did I miss this key element? My husband and I had planned that one of us would donate blood for him. But we were different blood types. I hung up the phone and my friends’ faces mirrored mine. I shared the news and two friends smiled and declared, “We have O positive blood!”

Jan and Denise drove off to donate blood, while Melinda and I took care of four babies under the age of six months and their four older siblings. We changed dirty diapers, wiped runny noses, and at one point Melinda breast-fed Denise’s baby while I bottle-fed Jan’s youngest. We laughed at the sharing of care between moms, so another mother could provide blood for my son.

Denise and Jan returned in a couple of hours with the news: Denise was CMV negative and her blood would be ideal for Carson!

The day of surgery was emotionally exhausting. My husband and I handed Carson over to the anesthesiologist and tears welled in our eyes, while knots knitted in our guts. Knowing too much can be a blessing and a curse. As I watched the clock, I knew when they would stop his heart, put him on bypass, make the repairs, restart his heart, and close his chest. Several excruciating hours later, the surgeon came out and announced that Carson’s surgery had gone perfectly!

As I stood on the other side of the bed in the ICU, the nurse in me wanted to check the ventilator, his dressings, IVs, and chest tubes. Then, as the nurse hung Denise’s blood over Carson’s bed and the red drops ran down the tubing into his body, I realized why my role had changed. I wasn’t out of control, as I thought. I instead trusted another nurse to stand in my place, just as Denise’s blood dripped in the place of mine. Many nurses served as my substitute on the other side of the bed so I could just be “Mom” on my side.

That’s when I realized the core of nursing is being there for each other . . . as nurses, mothers, and friends.

Cyndi S. Schatzman

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