Who was the most memorable person you met while you were at Children's Hospital? If you posed that question to a former patient, or to the parent of a patient, the answer would probably be, "the nurse." My associate, Annie Koch, visited a Children's nurse recently as she made her rounds. Annie's report:
It is 8:30 a.m, and Kathy Sheehy is going from room to room, saying "Good morning," and checking up on her patients. She walks into a warm, bright room where two boys are just waking up. Outside the window, McMillan Reservoir sparkles in the sunlight.
The boys are two of Sheehy's four "primary patients," and she knows them well. As she chats with them, she changes the intravenous fluid bottle of one of the boys and listens to his chest.
The boy wants to talk about the events of the day before. "That was really stupid--the guy that held up the Monument," the boy says, as he breathes for her.
"Are you breathing deeply?" Sheehy asks him.
" Almost choking myself," he jokes.
"Breath deep for me," she says.
As they talk, the boy has one eye on the TV set. He suddenly notices an ad for a favorite food. He looks away and covers his ears.
"I don't want to hear about food," he says. His ailment, a congenital constriction of the digestive system, has prevented him from eating solid food for a long time.
The boy is 14 years old. He has been in and out of the hospital more than 35 times. This time, he has been in for more than six weeks. Despite being away from school for so long, he is a good student. But Sheehy is concerned that he might be getting behind in his studies.
"What if we were to arrange to have a quiet place for you to study?" she asks him. "You're a good student. You don't want to get behind."
Caring for patients and finding places for them to study are equally important parts of the job to Kathy Sheehy. She started working at Children's in October, 1981. When she first found out that she had been assigned to Four Orange, the adolescent unit, she planned to transfer as soon as she could to a floor with younger kids. At the time, she thought she was most interested in working with toddlers.
But once she started working on Four Orange, Sheehy realized she was exactly where she wanted to be. "I would never transfer anyplace else," she says today.
Four Orange is a 21-bed unit. The kids treated there usually range in age from 12 to 19. "They're really a wonderful group of kids to work with," Sheehy says. "I love the age group. These kids can really share with you."
In addition to her routine duties, Sheehy feels she has a very important role to play as "patient advocate." She tries to become a kind of agent, pleading the patient's case to doctors and other hospital staff.
The emotional needs of her patients are as important as their physical needs, she believes. Sheehy tries to build a close relationship with both the patients and their families. She thinks this is particularly beneficial in a unit like Four Orange, where many of the patients return time and again for treatment.
When she was a little girl, Kathy Sheehy wanted to be a veterinarian. But when she got to high school, she changed her mind. She decided she'd rather be a nurse like her older sister.
A slim, pretty 23-year-old with long brown hair and blue eyes, Sheehy came to Children's after receiving a bachelor of science degree in nursing at the University of Virginia. A native of Great Falls, she came to Children's for two reasons: it specializes in pediatrics, and it is close to home.
Sheehy has four "primary patients:" cases for which she is chiefly responsible. They consume most of her attention when she's on duty. When she's not, it's up to her to make sure that the nurses on duty are completely up to date on the conditions of each of her four patients.
Sheehy's "primaries" have all been treated in Four Orange before. They are a 20-year-old man with cystic fibrosis, the 14-year-old boy with the congenital digestive problem, a 17-year-old youth with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and a 14-year-old girl with anorexia nervosa.
All four think Sheehy is an effective nurse. Equally important, they like her. As the 14-year-old boy says: "She's a great nurse. She's nice. She wakes me up in the morning and we laugh at night."
Sheehy realizes that, as a nurse, she can't fully understand what a patient is feeling. But she tries to imagine.
"I've never really experienced pain," she says. "You always have to step back and say, 'What are they going through?' "
Sheehy always is aware of the possibility that an emergency can occur while she's on duty. "Every day I rehearse in my mind how to do CPR cardiopulmonary resuscitation ," she says. And when kids don't get well as quickly as she'd like, Sheehy says, "it's hard, emotionally."
One of her most difficult experiences at Children's occurred soon after she began working on Four Orange. One of the patients to whom she had become close died unexpectedly. Sheehy had just come on duty when it happened. She managed to get through her shift, but she says she became extremely upset when she got home.
"I wasn't going to come back," she says.
But she did.
Sheehy is engaged to be married in June. She plans to start working toward her master's degree in nursing this spring.
She also plans to keep working on Four Orange.
To contribute to the campaign:
Make a check or money order payable to Children's Hospital and mail it to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C., 20071.