Novick Cardiac Alliance PICU Nurse and Educator, Roslyn Rivera, BSN, RN remembers her experience with heart surgery as a child.
As a pediatric cardiac ICU nurse, I often find myself rocking crying babies just hours after their heart surgery, while I repeat the phrase “I know, I know…” in an attempt to calm them. I can honestly say I understand the pain and discomfort they feel with all the tubes and drains attached to their small bodies. I can say this, because I also have had open heart surgery to repair the congenital heart defects I was born with.
My story starts on a warm Southern California summer day when I was born in 1983. This was the day my parents learned that I had a heart murmur. I was born with a congenital heart defect called partial AV Canal. They were told the holes in my heart might close as I grew up, so surgery wasn’t necessary. But at the age of 3, I developed heart failure and had my first open heart surgery to repair my defect. My only memories from this surgery were of the times when I went to the playroom! It’s safe to say this is when I had my first thoughts of being a nurse when I grew up… This idea was made definite when I was 10 years old and had my second heart surgery. I noticed a faint scar on the chest of one of my nurses, and learned that she also had heart surgery. Hearing her story convinced me that I wanted to be in her shoes one day, as a nurse taking care of children after heart surgery.
From my hospitalizations as a child, I never recall feeling afraid. I believe this is because my nurses were always so caring, and talked or played with me to distract me from anything painful. I remember my pacing wires being pulled out of my chest. I remember the expressions of worry and fear on my parents faces and the kind nurses who comforted them. I trusted my nurses, and these memories of being a patient reverberate into my own nursing career.
I have never let my congenital heart defect hold me back in any way, in fact it has enhanced my life. I was fortunate enough to be born in a country where pediatric cardiac care was readily available, even in the early 1980s. This is why I travel to developing countries with medical teams providing heart surgery to children who would otherwise not receive care. I was that child in the hospital bed attached to wires and tubes, and now—as a nurse—I can truly relate to the children I care for. This has led me to continue my passion of helping children with heart disease in developing countries around the world.