Mary Michalski – Registered Nurse

**Mary Michalski, a Registered Nurse and recent graduate of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology describes her clinical experiences within the haematology-oncology/bone marrow transplant program at a children’s hospital, emphasizing the caring and courage needed in the nursing profession.**


Mary Michalski and her beads

It is normal to be afraid, or at least that’s what I convince myself as I walk through the set of double doors canvassed with smiling animals, depicting anything but a place to be feared. Whether it was at sunrise or sunset, there was always a variable degree of unease that followed me into the pediatric intensive care unit: do I know what I’m doing? Will my care be safe? Will I be able to support these families?

This past October, as I reflected on my decision to leave behind my “dream” of pediatric oncology/bone marrow transplant and pursue another path in my nursing career, I wrote the following without any idea of just how real these words would become.

“The next time I find myself feeling even a bit discouraged, I will try to remember this: Hope that you will be brave enough to run towards the things that scare you, caring enough to provide just the right kind of comfort, and humble enough to never fully realize the impact of your actions. Hope not that you will make a difference, but that you will take the time to care, to listen, and to feel. Hope that you never allow yourself to grow numb to the suffering around you, but that you embrace it every time. Hope that you never become blind to the beauty that still exists in the saddest of situations. Hope that you never forget to hope. And, if nothing else, hope that you share love.”

The responsibility we hold as nurses is beyond overwhelming; it is terrifying. It is a fear that can make you dread the drive in, but one that keeps your decisions safe. It’s a trepidation that makes you continuously question, wonder, and think. It’s a stress response that makes your fingers swell, your stomach turn, your heart race, your palms sweat… yet, it brings attention to the very gravity of what it means to care.

“Be brave enough to run towards the things that scare you” is something I never thought I would have to do, at least not as a nursing student. It almost seems contrary to what one would believe, but I’m learning that the more you demonstrate a willingness to face the things that terrify you, the easier it becomes to face those scary things.

Within most children’s hospitals, there is a program called “Bravery Beads”, where children and parents are encouraged to collect a bead for every experience or procedure endured. The selection of these beads vary depending on the unit here at Sick Kids, and encompass everything from hair loss to a heart transplant. By the time a child leaves the hospital, they have often collected strings upon strings of these beads, and I’m learning that it is more than a creative distraction; it is a way to cope with the challenges that come with prolonged hospitalization, and to capture their journey in a tangible and meaningful way. When I completed my nursing clinical externship this past summer in the cancer units at Sick Kids, a very special nurse I worked with would make beaded lanyards for colleagues in the haematology-oncology/BMT program. The inspiration behind this project was to not only provide a whimsical and easy way for nurses to connect with their pediatric clientele, but as a reminder that nurses are brave too. Not unlike our patients, we demonstrate bravery in the way we advocate for those we care for, in the times we question and speak up for what we know to be right, and in the small moments when we muster the courage to stand alone. For these reasons and for so many more I have yet to learn, I know these beads are for nurses too.

As my final days in nursing school came to a close, I learned that the most vital skills of nursing are not learned within the walls of a classroom or the pages of a textbook, but in acknowledging and demonstrating a deep respect for the things that make us human. Beyond the tangible skills of completing assessments, making critical decisions, bolusing meds, stripping chest tubes and ventilating tiny lungs, there is a layer of nursing that I once overlooked and mistakenly counted as insignificant. It is a component that surpasses the caring curriculum that is so often talked about yet rarely ever explained, and one that asks each of us a difficult question: how do we care for each other? Do we strive to empower and encourage, or unintentionally tear down and discourage? Do we put in the extra effort to empathize and understand, or rely on what is easy for us to assume? Can we ever really teach what it means to be compassionate?

As nurses, I think we are called to be there for one another. At the children’s hospice in which I work and love, we have a “kudos” program, where we take the time each day to write down what it is each nurse has done well, put it into the “kudos” box, and share it with our team come the end of month. I am learning that there is something very beautiful in recognizing, acknowledging, and communicating what it is we do good. It is more than a morale booster, but a reminder to each nurse that the care they provide and the love they share does not go unrecognized. It communicates the oh-so-important message that you are an asset to the team. It has taught me, and continues to teach me, the value in caring for my fellow nurses, especially in the moments when it is not easy to do so. It is a lesson that I consider to be the most valuable in my journey towards becoming a nurse.

Having now “faced the things that scare you”, I feel as though I have learned what it means to be resilient. I think that if we are to ask our children and families to remain resilient in light of adversity and challenge, we must also ask that same feat of ourselves. In spite of the challenges that made me want to run away from what inspired me to become a nurse in the first place, I feel ready to return to the place where I felt my heart beat the strongest and where my passion for nursing overflowed: pediatric blood & marrow transplant.

As I walk past the smiling animals that call the walls of the ICU their home, I’ll remind myself that it is okay to be afraid, because true courage exists in the presence of fear. As I walk out that set of double doors for the last or not-so-last time, I’ll remember what I have learned from every child, family, and nurse who have made this journey such a meaningful one. It is always sad to say goodbye to a place in which you have grown to love, but I’m learning that it’s in remembering the lessons it has taught you that will make you feel as though you never left. I will forever be grateful for the triumphs and challenges this not-so-scary place shared, for they have all been lessons in resiliency. As I now enter my next chapter of nursing, I can’t help but say thanks to this place and to the people who bring it to life, for you have reminded me of what it means to be brave.