When a recent patient's six-year-old daughter found out she couldn’t enter the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) to see her new twin siblings, she was understandably disappointed that she couldn’t see or touch the babies. But for this young girl and countless other family members of sick newborns, the NICU nurses are more than just medical caretakers: Their compassion brings families closer together.
According to visitation policy, no children under 18 may enter the NICU. But nurses like Toni Ashley do their best to accommodate young children anxious to meet their new baby siblings. Families with young kids receive goodie bags with coloring pages, information about the NICU, coupons for local restaurants, and stickers reading, “I’m a Big Brother/Sister.” And the six-year-old daughter of the recent patient was thrilled when a nurse gave her two tiny diapers and a gold heart monitor sticker, taking them to school for show-and-tell. “We do the little, special things we can for the siblings,” says Toni.
For young siblings desperate to see their parents’ new baby, the lack of viewing windows in the NICU can also be frustrating. If the baby is hooked up to machines, unable to be lifted up to the window, the nurses photograph the baby with a digital camera and print out pictures immediately. Toni says these first photos often end up in a “journey box,” a memory box that each family receives from NICU staff. Families can decorate the box and use it to store precious objects such as a blood pressure cuff or a first bottle.
For the NICU staff, true patient care goes beyond medicine, and the nurses especially empathize with the young children unable to enter the NICU. “We do everything we can, and it breaks our hearts,” Toni says, “because we can understand.”