Care Beyond Care

Comer 6 nurses from left to right: Lauren Knisley, RN; Stephanie Baier, RN; Bridget Blaney, RN; Tiffany Bailey, RN; Marlito Arquillano, RN; April M. Barnes, RN; Angela Jarboe, RN; Corey Taylor, RN; Courtney Ziebarth, RN; Jaclyn Burnette, RN.
Photo by David Christopher

By Ankur Thakkar

An unusual visitor attempted to sign in at the first floor of the Comer Children’s Hospital late one Saturday evening. With his thick red coat, heavy boots and a billowing gray beard, Santa Claus wasn’t a common name on the visiting list, but he was certainly welcomed by Comer’s 6th floor hematology/oncology nursing staff.

The nurses ushered Santa, a local fireman, into the room of a young patient. He gave the boy, an aspiring firefighter, a real fireman’s helmet.

What Santa didn’t know was that the ecstatic young man had hours to live.

Not all of the children in Comer 6 are terminal, many suffer from chronic diseases. The floor is primarily a home for multispecialty pediatrics with a focus on hematology/oncology and stem cell patients. They see children with neuroblastoma, brain tumors, blood disorders and leukemia, many of whom are cured. There also are patients with an advanced stage of cancer, who aren’t responding to traditional treatments.

For these children, the nursing staff works alongside doctors to provide palliative care in which they reduce or alleviate pain to make patients as comfortable as possible. The nurses administer chemotherapy, monitor the children’s pain and nausea and even use therapeutic visualization, also known as guided imagery, to distract them from their discomfort. They also hang out with the kids after night shifts, play board games with them and play movies in their rooms. These activities are part of a larger commitment to improve the children’s quality of life.  

“Our nurses would do anything for our patients,” said Terry Park, RN, patient care manager of Comer 6. “They are constantly being tested. And they want to be doing nothing else."

A quarter of the nurses on Comer 6 have been doing their job for over 20 years, and at least one completed her training the night Santa signed in. What goes past standard training is how connected they become with the families. They educate them about their child’s condition and keep in touch with them long after they leave the hospital. They provide the parents with their child’s handprint, to give them something to hold on to. Nurses often refer to the parents as “Mom” and “Dad,” symbolic of the fact that they don’t just treat children, they treat the whole family.