When I first got to know Nick Joachimides (above centre), it was in his role as a nurse educator at Holland Bloorview.
Nick was part of a research study to address a growing body of literature that suggested pain was under-recognized and under-treated in children with disabilities. The study aimed to shift the focus from treating pain in our kids to preventing it.
This was of great personal interest to me because my son had just had a major hip and knee surgery that wasn't successful: the hardware put in his hip had pulled out of the bone, taking a chip with it, he was in unbearable pain, and he had to have the identical surgery a second time to correct it.
I was an emotional wreck when my son came to Holland Bloorview in a body cast following this second surgery.
But I had one huge advantage. Nick worked on the unit my son was on.
Nick was convinced that by proactively treating pain with medication before it spun out of control, it could be kept at bay. He was implementing a number of best practices that included pain assessment tools to track pain; anticipating and treating pain prior to therapy or procedures; making pain management the responsibility of the entire rehab team; using distraction and relaxation techniques; and educating families.
Nick was caring, calm and unflappable.
When my son's cast had to be cut off unexpectedly because his wounds continued to ooze, Nick was part of the team that supported my son in the treatment room pictured (in the photo above he is with a different client).
Children need to feel safe in their hospital rooms, so painful or anxiety-provoking procedures are done in a separate room at Holland Bloorview.
I expected cutting the cast off would be traumatic for my son. I was also concerned that it might result in the hardware pulling out of his hip again. "He can't take another surgery," I remember telling Nick, which was really my way of saying "I can't take another surgery!"
I was astounded when I came to the treatment room and found my son lying on a bed, completely relaxed, grinning. Nick and a number of nurses and child-life specialists were circled around him, as was the orthotist who was cutting off the cast.
Fibre-optic lights were draped over my son, blinking peacefully, and his favourite Star Wars movie played on a large-screen TV above. I hadn't asked for any of these things. Because staff had gotten to know my son, they knew he adored Star Wars. They had taken the time to think about what might soothe him and take his mind off the medical procedure.
There was only one person visibly stressed in the room: me. One of the child-life specialists suggested that it might be better for everyone if I went back to my office and they called me when the procedure was over. Ha ha! She was right.
When the cast was removed they found my son had pressure sores that needed to be treated. Nick is an expert in wound care and he always seemed to be able to change my son's dressings with a minimum of pain.
Something I learned when my son became an inpatient here is that nurses are the heart of the care we provide. They're the ones who are with you and your child for the most amount of time every day and night. They're the ones who problem-solve with you when your child's pain is bad. They're the ones who make handmade heating packs to soothe your child's aches. They're the ones who are there when everyone "leaves" for the weekend. They're the ones who give you a hug when you start to cry. They're the ones who make being in hospital bearable.
Two years ago I got to interview Nick about how he got into children's rehab. I was moved by a story he told about the deep connection he made with one inpatient boy on our complex-continuing care unit. "They want to have fun, they want to be treated like children," he said. "They need people here who can demedicalize the environment." One of the ways he did that was by concocting practical jokes with this boy that they'd play on other nurses. "We'd both laugh when we pulled off a good one," he recalled.
In the last few years Nick moved out of frontline nursing and worked with people in and out of Holland Bloorview to make it a leader in patient safety and infection control.
When I heard he was going to a new position at Bridgepoint Active Health Care I was so sad. Holland Bloorview and Nick went together. But then I learned he was returning to clinical care, as an advanced practice practitioner for wound care. I could picture the immense trust he would engender in the patients and families he was going to, the way he would work to take away their pain and put them at ease. And it totally made sense.
"Do you remember a nurse called Nick?" I asked my husband.
"Not really," he said.
"Come on," I said. "He helped Ben with his pressure sores."
"Oh him! Yes, he was very gentle and kind."