A Children’s nurse experiences life “inside the side-rails”

Eva Gomez, MSN, RN, is a nurse and staff development specialist at Children’s Hospital Boston. In the following piece Eva explains how her recent heart surgery has renewed her appreciation for life and inspired her to be an even better care provider.

Eva Gomez, MSN, RN

“I’m healthy. I am fine. There’s no way something’s wrong with me.”

That’s what I told myself as I looked in the mirror and got ready to see my cardiologist. It had been 15 years since I last saw a heart specialist. I told myself that despite the symptoms I was having, there really wasn’t a problem. I didn’t want to hear or acknowledge it, but my life was changing and now it was my turn to be a patient; a patient affected by heart disease.

So many times during my career as a nurse I’ve stood next to a patient’s bed telling parents, “We’re going to take good care of your baby. Everything’s going to be fine. Before you know it your little one will be strong and healthy again.” This is part of what I do on a daily basis, and I’m proud to be a great nurse. But I never imagined how it would feel if the roles were reversed. When my cardiologist told me I had a valve that wasn’t working well and an aneurysm that needed repair, my world crumbled into a million pieces.

I was scared. Very, very scared. “What do you mean I have to be a patient in the Cardiac ICU?” My eyes filled with tears. What was the pain going to feel like? What was the breathing tube going to feel like? I knew the look of patients I’ve cared for when they had a breathing tube; there’s fear in their eyes. I was going to be that patient, looking at my nurse, wondering, “How do you know everything will be OK?” So many things overwhelmed me for six long months. It was a challenge to get up every day and think of the all thing that worried me. Anytime I wasn’t busy, my thoughts drifted to my heart operation.

I prepared as best I could. I practiced deep breathing, meditation and acupuncture—anything to help calm me and help wrap my brain around what was about to happen. Finally the day of the operation came. Tears filled my eyes again as I was being wheeled into the operating room. The last thing I remember was meeting my OR nurse, who kindly introduced himself to me. As I was moved over onto the table, my last words before I fell asleep were, “Thank you, thank you so much.” When I opened my eyes again, I had a new aortic valve, a new aorta and a much-improved heart. That was it. My new lease on life had officially begun; time to make it count.

February is National Heart Month

Today, after four months, I’m well on my way to being 100 percent. I couldn’t have gotten through those days without the excellent care I got from nurses, doctors, my family, friends, co-workers and everyone who looked after me. Every day after the surgery has been a milestone: first walk to the bathroom, first walk down the hallway, first day driving a car, first visit to the gym. I’m in awe of life, how precious it is, and what it means to go through such a big operation and be in the shoes of so many I’ve cared for in my lifetime as a nurse.

I understand now what it’s like “inside the side-rails”; the fears, the anxiety and the emotions that come from living this experience. I also know that as caregivers of so many, we have to take care of ourselves. Though my condition was congenital, many forms of heart disease—the number one cause of death of women in the U.S.—are preventable. I was experiencing symptoms, but I wasn’t getting them checked out. We have to make the time to get regular checkups, ask questions about our health and learn what we can do to prevent them. We owe it to ourselves to live a long life with our families and the many who care about us. Everyone has a ticking heart that needs care, and it’s never too late to start doing it right.

As for me, I’m glad to be back into the world with this new perspective, ready to serve others and to be a nurse once again.

12 thoughts on “A Children’s nurse experiences life “inside the side-rails”

  1. Just makes me want to cry reading it, life and its challenges can knock us back but God designs blessing where we can’t see them. You are a blessing to those you treat!

  2. You are an amazing person Eva Gomez and we are so happy to have you back here at work with us healthy and smiling like you always do. Thank you for taking the time to write this piece and sharing your story with all of us. I know that it has inspired me and reminds me why I love working here at CHB.

  3. Thanks so much for sharing this important and very moving story with all of us!!

  4. thank you for sharing. Can I ask what were the symptoms that were obviously present enough for you to think you should get checked out, but, vague enough to be able to ignore for a long time? I think this would be helpful for us to know to help spread the message. I am a mom of a cardiac baby…open heart by 3 months, I got very emotional reading your story.

    1. Dear Guest:
      Thank you so much for reading the story and letting me know it had an impact on you.
      My symptoms were palpitations and what I now know was shortness of breath. Whether I was going up the stairs or exercising I would feel these weird skips and fluttering sensations in my heart—and I thought they were normal. Worst part was that I thought I was out of shape, so I kept on pushing harder! I didn’t know that I was putting more stress on my heart. My blood pressure was going up too. I found out when I went to see the doctor for a regular checkup. I thought it was just stress an I needed to relax.
      So I came to a conclusion: I thought I was stressed and out of shape. I now know that taking care of yourself is essential, and that denying something’s not right with your body is not the answer.

      I hope this helps. I wish all the best for you and your 3 month-old. I learned through this journey that surviving heart surgery cannot be done without the people who care for you and love you. I know your 3-month old is very lucky to have you as his/her mom, and as you look into his/her eyes this morning know you are each other’s greatest gifts. Stay strong and positive, live well and be happy!

      Eva Gómez, RN

  5. My 15-year-old daugther is a freshman in high school and wants to be a nurse. She is a 13-year bone marrow transplant survivor, had open heart surgery in July, has had four orthopaedic surgeries, and is seen by other specialists there. She wants to follow in the footsteps of the health care providers she had there. She knows that she will bring a unique perspective and support to her patients due to her experiences. She wants to work at CHB where she has been a patient since the age of 13 months. You go girl!

  6. wow what a story. I am very happy you are doing great now. What you say is so true. We have to look after ourselves it is very important. Keep up the great work you do as well. Nurses and the heart of every hospital

  7. I am undergoing testing this week to determine whether I will need cardiac surgery. Terrified is an understatement! So glad your surgery went well. Thank you for sharing with us. Be well:)

    1. Carol, I know how terrifying that is. Hold on to whatever it is that gives you courage, and bring a friend along. That’s always a great help.
      I wish you all the best too.

      Eva Gomez, RN

  8. I myself have had open heart surgery at CHB 3 times. The first at 16 and the other two when I was in my 30’s. It can be very frightening but I have always had such trust in the wonderful doctors and nurses that they have made it all easier for me. You see, they have followed me since I was a baby. The older I get I do tend to get nervous that there will be more surgery required in the future but I know that the staff at CHB will be there for me. I wish you all the best and if I do need to “check back in” to CHB I hope our paths cross.

  9. Having sat with Eva as a person on the other side of her side-rails, I know she has done an amazing job in her recovery and in relaying this message to as many people she can that may listen. The message to go and get yourself checked regularly. We all know prevention is better than cure.

  10. Eva no tenia ni idea de este suceso en tu vida, Lamento no haberme enterado antes, pero me alegro de que te encuentres bien y de regreso a ese tu lugar preferido “tu Hospital”, desde donde haces posible los sueños que muchos tenemos. Se que este impace se dio a tiempo para poder restaurar ese corazon grande y bueno que tienes y asi seguir palpitando entre nosotros. un abrazo. 🙂

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