Following the birth of her own twin boys, Colleen Riesselman, a registered nurse in the cardiovascular intensive care unit (ICU), had just returned back to her first work shift when she was faced with a tense situation.
A baby boy with a complex congenital heart defect was under her care, and his prognosis was uncertain at best. The boy was only a week younger than her own new babies, and Colleen knew she had to do everything she could to help his family bond with him.
“I offered his parents a chance to hold him, to which they immediately said ‘yes,’” Colleen remembers. “I knew this was going to be challenging, but also very rewarding for them, so once we got him up and into their arms I made sure they had as much skin contact with their little guy as possible. I remember running into that little guy’s parents years later and they told me they will forever remember that day, and me, because I was the first person to ever let them really hold their son.”
It’s memories and moments like that that keep Colleen passionate about the work she does as a pediatric, cardiovascular ICU nurse at University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital.
Whether in her role as a charge nurse or providing direct patient care, each shift provides not only a different experience, but new challenges, as well. Regardless of the role or day, there’s never a dull or quiet moment.
“When I’m in charge, I need to make sure the nursing staff is doing OK and that they have everything they need to provide excellent nursing care,” says Colleen. “When I’m doing patient care, I need to make sure families have everything they need.”
That includes responsibilities such as finding families a place to sleep, helping them find more information about the cardiac condition their child might have, and sometimes, simply providing a comforting ear to listen.
For colleague Adam Sakhitab, MN, RN, CCRN, having that touch point to the patient and their family is what inspired him to get into his profession. Formerly in the medical research field, he said he pursued a new opportunity because he wanted to use his critical thinking skills and knowledge to more directly impact patients’ health.
“I’m proud at the end of every day that I know I provided a high standard of care,” says Adam. “I’m proud when I know a patient or family is happy with the care I gave them and I’m proud when I help my colleagues deliver better care and when they do the same for me.”
Due to the pace of the work, and the sometimes challenging patient stories, stress is a natural component of the job.
For Colleen, finding ways to deal with that stress in healthy ways is critical, and also allows her to enjoy the more rewarding aspects of the job. For Adam, seeking out ways to enhance his knowledge of cardiac critical care and focusing on having a large-scale impact on a patient’s health keeps him centered.
“As a member of the care team, I seek to keep children safe and help them progress through a critical period after open-heart surgery and provide as positive an experience to families as possible while they are in the CVICU,” says Adam. “I work with an exceptional team, and I’m constantly collaborating with nurse practitioners and pediatric intensivists to do what is best for our patients and families.”
Despite the misconception, Colleen says the job is not just about coping with loss and sadness.
“There are nights that I don’t get a minute to take a break because my patient is too sick to leave alone even for a moment,” says Colleen. “But there are also nights that I get to chat with a teenage patient about silly things, play games and do hair. I am very proud of the work that we do, and the impact we have on children and families affected by cardiac disease.”
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