Trenton was still in the pediatric intensive care unit, guarded that day by an angel of a nurse. We'd been around the PICU block once before, and we knew we loved Sheila even back then. She could hold her own with Matt's sarcastic antics (very few people can!), answer the ten million medical questions we fired at her daily, and most importantly, Sheila could handle Trenton's fragile post-operative body, the endless medications, procedures, tubes, labs, numbers, (and so much more!) with amazing confidence and utmost care.
So in that moment when things turned frightful, doctors were surrounding Trenton's bed, puzzled at what to do. My mom and mother-in-law were in tears, Matt and I were frozen, stunned. All of us knew that his fragile heart was probably giving up. It's hard enough to see the monitors connected to your child's body indicate that things are looking bleak, but what's without a doubt worse is watching so many doctors stand still and do nothing.
Discuss, sure. Ponder, of course. Worry, yes. But not one doctor knew what to do.
Cue Sheila, wonder nurse. We all know the hierarchy that exists between doctors and nurses. This day was different. I distinctly remember Sheila asking permission to work on Trenton, and when there was no solid answer, she took action. Boldly, confidently, carefully. She started the process that would ultimately save Trenton's life. Not only save it, but preserve the quality of life he would have forever.
I won't go into more medical detail, but Matt and I were sent out of the room by Sheila, after the doctors sprung into action with her. We drug ourselves down the hallway, sank to the floor, and cried together. Family and friends had been called, and started to gather in a private room that had been opened for us. We prayed with a complete stranger (now a dear friend!) in that hallway and then moved into the room with our people. We circled to pray, cried, began to prepare ourselves for the worst.
Cue Sheila, wonder nurse. She found us in that room, and the expression of relief on her face was like finally breathing air after being held underwater for days. Her news was even better. Trenton was stable. Not only stable, but more stable than he'd been all day, maybe longer!
Trenton gradually recovered from surgery, and we've thankfully never had another scare of that caliber to date. We've even returned to the PICU and to Sheila's care for future surgeries, which at that point felt like being in the hands of family. The bonds that form in those moments--amidst the hell, the chaos, the tears--those bonds are there for life. The stranger in the hallway, the wonder nurse. Both are family to us now. Precious relationships that were formed in that single moment will undoubtedly last a lifetime.
Maybe to Sheila, she was just doing her job. My guess is that this sort of thing happens often on Sheila's watch. She's given these fragile post-op children for a reason. I know she's highly respected and counted on by some of the best cardiac surgeons in the nation there in that PICU. But I also now know Sheila well enough that her own heart is there in those moments, too. When her patients' hearts are crashing. She's the rare kind of nurse that truly understands the impact that she's making with every lab she checks, with every bold decision she makes.
How does this relate to my (usually lighthearted!) photography blog, you ask? As you can probably guess, I had the privilege of taking family photos for Sheila and her family recently. I love that they call her "Chop," a reference to being a helicopter mom. Those helicopter mom qualities are the same ones that saved our son seven years ago. I know her family watches her leave for long shifts at work, and I can guarantee that they know she's amazing, intelligent, and inspiring. But when she comes home, I doubt they realize the impact on countless lives she's had while she was gone. Matt and I need to thank her husband, sons, daughter-in-law, and grandson for sharing her with us--for giving up their time with her as she leaves for her "pump shift" to care and fight for her other children--the post-heart surgery PICU ones who need her. Because even if our story hadn't ended well (and I'm confident many haven't), it means the world to us that Sheila was there in our corner, fighting for our child's life when we certainly weren't qualified to, and those who were didn't know what to do.
She's no ordinary nurse. And her family deserves to know all about it.
(And maybe see some photos of their beautiful faces, too!)