Episode Fourteen: The Lollipop Moments

Tell Me Something Good—that’s the name of a weekly email Emily Depetris sends to her coworkers in the pediatric cardiac ICU.

In the PCICU, they take care of really sick kids. So Emily wanted to give the PCICU staff a weekly reminder of the good things that come from their work—in the form of pictures of their patients playing in the park, dressing up for Halloween, and graduating from high school.

Emily is joined by Anne Schmelzer, RN, a nurse in the PCICU, to talk about why she started Tell Me Something Good, and how it’s brought joy and inspiration to the team.

Listen to their conversation below.


Anne Schmelzer: I think Fridays are everyone’s favorite day in the department now because those emails come around. Even if I’m not in the unit, if I’m like at to school, I’m like always whenever that buzz goes off I’m like, yes! It’s our Friday update.

Karishma Sriram: This is Annie Schmelzer. And the Friday update she’s talking about is the “Tell Me Something Good” weekly email.

Anne: It’s just a weekly update with things about our patients in the hospital and also the ones that are home. We’re able to see these beautiful pictures of the patients and just seeing them live normal lives allowed me to see like, wow, my role is really important. I get to work with really amazing people, caring for these really strong children. And because of it, they get to go out, go to school, have fun, go to the park, and I think it inspires me to come to work and provide the best care I can to our patients.

Karishma: This is Voices of Duke Health. I’m Karishma Sriram. Before we get into “Tell Me Something Good,” let’s back up a little bit. Annie works in the Pediatric Cardiac ICU at Duke. She’s a nurse, and in the PCICU, nurses care for just one or two patients at a time.

Anne: And so we kind of really get to dedicate our whole day to that patient and their family. And because our kids are so complex and some of the sickest of the sick, they do sometimes spend a really long time with us. And in some ways I think that’s actually a benefit for us and sometimes the patients, because you can develop really close relationships or really know how this patient acts from like a psychological perspective to a medical perspective. And you can really serve as their advocate, maybe when situations are becoming more critical, saying they don’t look well.

Karishma: And of course, in the PCICU, they’re working with kids, and often, really little babies.

Annie: And I think with Emily’s role, especially, she kind of helps us figure out even though we’re working with really sick babies, how to still provide developmental care in an ICU.

Karishma: She’s talking about Emily Depetris, a child life specialist in the PCICU.

Anne: And making sure we’re like watching what words we’re using, by like not being like, hey we’re going to put you to sleep, or we’re taking you to the floor for transferring them out. Like she allows us to realize some of our language, to a child, sounds really different or seems scary.

Karishma: Here’s Emily.

Emily Depetris: PCICU is mainly comprised of infants. So for my littler stinkers it’s really kind of trying to keep them on that track of development while they’re in the hospital. All of that good, normal baby stuff that babies would be doing at home, we want them to have in the hospital. So it’s providing them with all of the tools developmentally that they’ll need.

For my older kiddos it’s a lot of explaining what different procedures and diagnosis means in terms that they understand and breaking it down to them, whether that’s for something as small as a lab draw or getting a new I.V., finding out they have a new condition or needing a heart transplant, some sort of surgery, making sure they understand that whole process.

And then I do work a lot with siblings as well, making sure that they understand why baby brother or sister has to be in the hospital and why, you know, mom or dad isn’t around at home as often. But when I don’t have to do any of that then I get to kind of do the funner things like taking kids outside and taking them for walks, you know sitting down and playing a board game with them so that I can build rapport with them and build that trust with them. So everyday honestly looks so different.

Karishma: But not every day is playing games or going for walks. What they do is hard.

Emily: And it’s a lot, it’s physically a lot, it’s emotionally a lot. At the end of the week you are drained, or at the end of your shift you have given like 110 percent.

Karishma: And so Emily’s especially lucky in that she gets to see another side of taking care of patients, when they’re not stuck in the hospital.

Emily: I get to see them in the ICU and then I get to see them also kind of when they come back for their clinic appointments, or their parents will reach out to me and send me updates. So I really kind of wanted to start a way to share that with the rest of my team.

They work extremely hard every day, every night taking care of these patients and their families. And I wanted them to be able to see you know where all their hard work is going. Just something to reflect on if they’re having a harder shift than another, that you know they are doing amazing work, even if on the hardest days it doesn’t seem you know that easy.

Karishma: So now, we’re back to the weekly email update, “Tell Me Something Good.” Emily started that, to inspire her co-workers.

Emily: I’m extremely proud to be on the same team as them. And if it’s kind of the one thing that I could do to give back and show how thankful I am for them and how hard they work to take care of these heart warriors, then it’s not something I mind doing at all.

I wanted a way to show them that once these kids come in for their surgeries or they leave the ICU and they transition to step down and then they go home, that they’re going home and they’re reaching you know all of their developmental milestones or they’re celebrating birthdays or you know celebrating their first Christmas, first Easter, first Thanksgiving, turning five. All these different things I want to be able to share with them.

Karishma: So she started sending out pictures, and videos, and little updates. And people loved it. Annie, included.

Anne: Like when they graduate from high school or, we haven’t had a marriage yet. So I’m excited for when we find out when one of our patients gets married. But I think just seeing that, it also, it really just brings it back to we need to do our best to get these kids out of here and just let them achieve all these things. And I think, honestly, since you’ve been doing these- and also in our newsletter for nursing she also does like a patient spotlight and that’s some more like in depth detail on some of the kids like graduating from college or riding a horse for the first time, just like all those little things I think, I love. And it makes me motivated to be the best nurse. I go back to school so I can care for these patients more closely or even care for them on the outpatient side where you can see the smiles all the time. So, yeah.

Karishma: I love that so much.

Emily: I had one of the OR nurses email me and said how much she appreciated the e-mails because, I never really thought of this, but as an OR nurse you know I mean all you really kind of see is their chest cavity. I mean you don’t really even sometimes see their face, or, I mean anything. So all she sees is kind of a name on a board and then like I said someone’s chest cavity. So she was thankful that she was able to see these kids not on an OR table, you know. And like I said just out leaving the hospital, getting their repair, getting whatever surgery they needed and then healthy and at home.

Karishma: And Emily never dreamed that this email would take off the way it did.

Emily: In the beginning I just thought it would be something pretty easy I would throw together each week. It is not. It requires a lot, a lot of work. For kiddos that stay in the hospital for a long time, it’s easy to keep up with them. But it can be really hard sometimes on a Thursday thinking, oh gosh, you know I need two more patients or I want include some more like, who haven’t I seen in a few weeks or a few months or who haven’t we seen in years even. I mean I’ve reached out to parents that we haven’t seen except for follow up visits, you know in three to four years. So I think it’s just an awesome reminder to staff, like I said, why we do what we do, why it’s important, why it’s important to go and give 110 percent even on days that you just feel kind of emotionally drained.

Karishma: So this actually reminded me of a TED talk I saw the other day.

Karishma: And this man was talking about lollipop moments which is where it’s just like a simple gesture that people make like a simple thing that people do. But it can have this huge and tremendous impact on your life. And like I mean I think every day like you guys as like child life specialists and nurses like you guys do those lollipop moments like that is your job, essentially. They’re like the patients are also doing that for you and you like very very much transforming your lives.

Emily: Someone like once described it to me as like, we’re just a chapter in their story. So I think that’s also been like a big takeaway, is that these families, when they’re going through kind of the most stressful, scariest time of their life, it is such an honor that they allow you to care for them, that they’re so vulnerable. I mean I don’t think I’m just speaking for me, but it’s a gift to be able to take care of them. And I always try to put it in perspective of we’re literally one chapter of their whole story. And it’s nice to be able to kind of revisit that and show staff like how, what their work has done to impact others.

Anne: Just want to put my plea out there that congenital heart disease is the most common birth defect, affecting about 1 out of every 100 births in the United States. And there are really amazing groups out there that people can donate to including Duke Children’s but also Sisters By Heart, Mended Little Hearts. And usually, whoever is listening to this, like your local hospital, you can also donate to them. But all these great resources we get, actually Emily gets a lot of amazing resources, but then it comes back to the unit for the kids with like, getting them homemade blankets or things to make their crib in the hospital kind of look like home. And so any awareness we can get to this amazing cause and our amazing heart program is, the more the better.

Karishma: Thank you both so much, Annie and Emily, for joining us today. Really appreciate you guys just talking about this amazing and beautiful idea that you guys have created and made such an impact in the Peds cardiac unit with. So thank you.

Anne: Perfect. Thank you!

Emily: Thanks for having us.

Anne: Yeah, this has been great.

Published by Anton Zuiker

Communications Director for the Duke Department of Medicine, longtime blogger and leader of BlogTogether, and co-founder of ScienceOnline.

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