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.