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'I’d never before heard screams like our little patient let out that day'

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Working as a student children’s nurse, I can sometimes feel like the meanest, least popular person on the planet.

Find me a five year old who wants to have their blood taken, or a catheter fitted?

Not many people of any age relish the thought of invasive procedures but children, especially younger ones, can’t often understand that it’s the best thing for them.

I absolutely love helping children and families, providing care, talking to them, playing, taking their obs, making them laugh, but I really dread when one of the doctors calls down for a student to help ‘distract’ when they need to do something that’s going to prove not so popular.

Research has shown that the anticipation of pain is usually worse than the pain itself

On my base ward, there’s a treatment room where the procedures take place, and in there is a lovely big box of toys, books, bubbles and stickers, ready to distract the child.

Research has shown that the anticipation of pain is usually worse than the pain itself, and so this box is full of useful tools to help the procedure go smoothly, hopefully.

Unfortunately, children and their families are unpredictable and all the bubbles in the world can’t always distract a child from his mother’s worried face as she intently watches the needle go in, or repeatedly tells him that she’s “so sorry, it’ll be over soon, poor baby…”.

Nothing could have prepared me for the first time I went to assist a doctor who was trying to draw blood from a three year old girl.

The girl’s father was there and I assumed he’d been told what was going to happen and how he could help - it’s standard procedure to involve the family members in things like this as it makes things more normal for the child.

She was not old enough to understand why her father was scared, but she was old enough to see that he was, which made her feel unsafe

Unfortunately, some wires had crossed on the ward and this girl and her father had been brought down here without being told why - the father was terrified and desperately trying to reach his wife on the phone, and the young girl was sat in a corner, silent and looking at me like I was the devil as I walked in.

She was not old enough to understand why her father was scared, but she was old enough to see that he was, which made her feel unsafe.

It was not a great start to what can often be a distressing experience at the best of times, and I could see that my box of tricks was not going to get me far.

I asked the doctor to run through what she was going to do, and put them both at ease which to her credit she tried to do, but the damage had already been done - they were both scared, angry and absolutely sure that it was going to hurt.

Despite my best efforts at distraction, and the considerable skill of the doctor, I’d never before heard screams like our little patient let out that day, and the image of her father crying is one which will stay with me for life.

It was a great lesson in why we should always be open and clear with our communication with families, preparing them fully for even the simplest of procedures.

Being aware at every step that many of these families have little experience of frontline health care- what to an experienced nurse is just a simple, quick and necessary procedure can be a scary and potentially traumatising event for our young people and their familes.

Rachael Starkey is a first year student nurse studying children’s nursing at the University of Canterbury

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