The Far Reaching Impact of a Child

Submitted by Michelle Gosselin, RN, CEN

Tags: caregiver child children emergency pediatric patients pediatrics support trauma

The Far Reaching Impact of a Child

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Members of the healthcare team are first and foremost caregivers. The desire to help others and care for those who seek our interventions. This is why we all entered the profession. In our textbooks and through personal lives we learn that there is a natural course for human life. The natural progression of life is to marry, have and raise children and grandchildren and die. We are graced with the presence of children in our lives. We gain much joy and purpose through children’s eyes and lives. As we all know children bring pleasures that cannot be experienced otherwise.

The gloriousness of the child’s spirit sometimes intersects with the outside world. When the world collides with life the outcomes are not always pleasant. Sometimes the harsh reality of trauma and injury impacts a family in the most unimaginable way. Accident and trauma can rip the precious children out of our lives in an instant. A child’s death is never easy and forever changes the family’s lives. I’ve had family members say, “why not me,” “it’s not fair”, “my smile is gone.”

As healthcare providers what do you say? The truth is, there is nothing to say. The sudden ending of a young life creates a huge void in a family. Parents react with sorrow, fear, sadness, anger and a myriad of other emotions. Families struggle to accept the death and move beyond the loss. As healthcare providers, we are exposed to death on a fairly routine basis. The death of a child is more difficult to comprehend and accept ourselves. Children who die within our care impact our lives as well.

The dynamic of the healthcare system plays an integral part in recurring trauma that occurs in the nations delivery systems. While at the bedside with a patient in the throes of trauma or death the caregiver focuses on the task at hand and puts 100% of their heart and soul into the life saving measures needed to return the patient to wellness. Most caregivers put the emotions aside to participate in the care. When our efforts are futile and the child dies, the staff feels a myriad of emotions as well. The healthcare team members feel sadness, anger, defeat, empathy and sorrow. When devastating deaths occur these feelings become powerful and can create a situation where growth can occur or conversely can destroy a career or person.

We are all care givers but under our professional persona is also a human being. Every person enters a situation with their personal life on their shoulders. The personal influence to a situation add layers to the emotion that nobody can predict. When faced with a tragedy each person will internalize the situation differently. It’s important that the team is attuned and alert to each other’s position and emotions. It’s imperative that the team support and help each member through the event to return to career and life.

Retraumatization of healthcare providers is a growing problem in most clinical settings even with many employee assistance programs in place to support the healthcare team. We unconsciously subject ourselves and our peers to revisiting these emotions without support. If the emotions were never expressed or addressed the outcome cannot be predicted. Knowing that people are our best asset we must work diligently to allow for protection and healing for all members of our team. Those closest to the event may not be able to see the forest through the trees. Therefore each member of the team must be educated to identify trauma related stress and be mindful of steps to follow to support their fellow team mate.

Nurse leaders and organizational administrators must be attune to team dynamics and struggles and have systems in place to identify the opportunities and support the individual in times of need. There is value in taking time to invest in the healing process to salvage the team member and help him or her return to work to further treat patients.