By Nick Joachimides
Everybody has defining moments in their life. Mine occurred 17 years ago while I was a high-school student doing a co-op placement on the complex continuing-care unit at Bloorview Children's Hospital. I wanted to try my hand at nursing for a potential career.
I was naïve about the number of children with disabilities and it was eye-opening in that sense, that a whole hospital would be dedicated to these kids. “Why would a guy want to be a nurse?” was the typical response from my teenage friends. I noticed there was only one other male on the unit and the young boys were drawn to me, as I was only 18.
During this time I got to know one boy who was 11 really well. I was tasked with helping him get ready for school—bathing, dressing and feeding him.
This boy looked different, and spoke different, and had lots of complex medical needs. Yet it struck me that he wanted all the same things out of life that any other boy his age wanted. We talked about TV and music and girls. We liked to play practical jokes on the nurses, and we’d both laugh when we pulled off a good one.
As the placement went on I realized that Holland Bloorview was the place for me. I entered nursing school the next year with one goal in mind: nursing at Holland Bloorview. Most of my classmates were going on to work in acute-care settings, but I knew that pediatric rehab was where I wanted to be.
While I was at university I volunteered with recreation therapy at Holland Bloorview, and then got a part-time job running the inpatient recreation programs.
It was while I was working with recreation a few years later that I asked a colleague about the boy I had first worked with. She said “I’m really sorry to tell you he passed away.” I remember going home and being shaken up. He would have been 13 when he died. How does a 13-year-old pass away?
The warning signs were all there but I was so naïve to childhood illness and disability and so many of the other kids I’d worked with on co-op were still at Holland Bloorview. To this day I get upset about it. I see other clients in the hall and I don’t see him, and it affects me.
It’s still in the back of my mind how much that one boy impacted my life. He’s basically the reason I’m here and he gives me the drive to make sure that we’re using best practices and keeping kids safe in my patient safety role now. This boy’s family doesn’t know how their child’s life changed mine. I’m certain that if I hadn’t met him and connected with him on the level I did, I might not be working where I am today.
After I graduated there were no jobs at Holland Bloorview so I worked in acute pediatrics at Scarborough General Hospital. Six months later a nursing job came up in the brain-injury unit here and I’ve been here ever since.
I’ve never had a true struggle in my life. When I look at what these kids go through at such a young age, and now being a father, looking at my daughter who’s this healthy, normally developing kid, I can’t imagine what the families go through on a personal level watching their child experience this.
I’ve worked with children with spinal-cord injury who’ve had catastrophic injuries and I’ve never had a child in the 12 years I’ve been here say: “Why did this have to happen to me?” I’m not saying they don’t have those thoughts, and that the situations aren’t sad for their families, but the kids at the end of the day want to be kids. They want to have fun, they want to be treated like children. They need people here who can demedicalize the environment. As nurses, we think we’re medical, and that’s what we do. But it doesn’t mean you have to medicalize a child’s entire life.
I spend more time with these kids than I spend with my daughter, over years, and it’s hard not to start to get to know people on a personal level. We’re human and we see people hurting and suffering.
The nursing college has guidelines about maintaining professional boundaries and that’s a skill that you acquire. I try to find those common ground things—like the fact that I’m a Montreal Canadiens fan—and stay away from what’s happening in my personal life.
I don’t think the patients and families know how much they give to us. They motivate us to seek out more knowledge, to strive for excellence and to look for gaps in the system that can be tightened up with best practices. They motivate us to be better clinicians.
Many people in my life have wondered why I want to work in what they see as a sad, depressing place.
There are sad moments for sure, and they humble you. But Holland Bloorview has so many happy moments.
The opportunity to work each and every day with children who just want to be children, to laugh and play, is the greatest reward for heading into the hospital.
I’ve been nursing for 12 years and hold a degree and a master’s and several other certifications. But I learn the most from spending time with the kids who access services here, and their families.
Nick Joachimides is manager of patient safety at Holland Bloorview.