It was going to be a sad and heartbreaking day, everyone knew that after all, it isn’t every day that a young wife/mother and her 5-day old infant have life support withdrawn together. I myself felt lost in the hours leading up to the withdrawals of mom and her baby. As I talked with staff that day many acknowledged they felt numb and unsure how to feel. This day was one of their saddest. With all of that known both Nikki Burson and another nurse chose to care for these patients and their family that day. They could have easily let some other nurses take this case, the withdrawals were planned, yet they chose to make this sad and heartbreaking day as beautiful as they could through their expertise and compassion.
When I arrived at the NICU that morning, a different was doing her best to care for that beautiful baby boy. She cleaned him, picked out an outfit, a burial gown, and made footprints and handprints. Not just one set of prints, she made prints for all the baby’s siblings, each by name and specially made for them. She continued to make that day beautiful by working with Nikki and going up to the 11th floor before family had arrived to obtain a mold of mom’s hand and with this mold and a mold of the baby boy’s foot she made a plaster mold that had mom’s handprint with baby’s footprint in her palm, which she later decorated with blue glitter to present to the family as a way to honor their memory.
When I made my way to the 11th floor to check in with that stuff, I did not find Nikki at her station outside. Nikki was in the room with a simple plastic comb, combing out the patient’s hair, doing her best to make her beautiful. The patient’s hair was a mess and using a simple plastic comb Nikki painstakingly took the time to make the patient beautiful by getting out the knots and glue from the EEG, for the family that would be coming soon. As the morning went on Nikki had to face many sad and grieving family and friends as they all came to say goodbye, all while facing her own emotions that day.
When the moment came the NICU team and the Med/Surg ICU team came together and surrounded by the mothers and babies, husband /father, children and other family members, withdrew care and the family began to grieve. The other nurse took photos of the baby and mother together in their final moments and Nikki continued to help facilitate family members as they entered and exited the room.
I have little doubt that those of us present that day will ever forget it. The heaviness and sadness are something that we as a team will recall years from now even as the family has long left our lives, and only a memory remains. And though the family will not remember the names of these two incredible young women, they will not forget their compassionate and empathetic presence from that day. As they look at the handprints and footprints they will remember their sadness and heartache and the two women who were in their lives for only a moment to make something sad beautiful in a way that only they could.
Thank you for your expertise and compassionate clinical care of our patients and families.