Friday, May 17, 2019

In nursing 'everything good comes from the heart'

By Louise Kinross

Shevonne Thatham is a registered practical nurse at Holland Bloorview working with children who have complex disabilities and use ventilators to breathe. She just won the DAISY award, which recognizes a nurse that uses a strengths-based approach and combines top-notch clinical skills with deep connections with children and families. “Families like my realness,” Shevonne says. “A lot of people say I’m the Oprah on the unit, because people open up to me. I’m able to make them feel welcome and warm.” 

BLOOM: How did you get into this field?

Shevonne Thatham: I never had a thought about working in pediatrics until I did my consolidating year on a student placement here. I knew I wanted to be on a respiratory unit, and I landed here, and the kids just captured my heart. Often there weren’t parents at the bedside, and there was a sense of urgency, that these children needed care, love and compassion. This is my calling.

BLOOM: How did you choose nursing?

Shevonne Thatham:
I was inspired by my mom. My mom is a practical nurse working in geriatrics. I used to go with my dad to pick her up on evenings, and we would go a little early so she could introduce me to her clients. I was always that caring person that wanted to help out. I was a little kid listening to their stories about how they got there. That sparked a flame inside me that never faded.

BLOOM: What’s a typical day—or night—like for you?

Shevonne Thatham:
I do rotating shifts. I like nights because you’re the nurse, the respiratory therapist and the doctor—you do it all. The clients I work with require total care. In the morning, we prepare their meds, administer their feeds, and get them up in their chairs. They may wear devices like ankle-foot orthoses. I’m their hands, their feet, their eyes, their ears. Then, I’m with a child for the day, whether they go to therapies, school or off-site. They’re complex, so I support any medical needs they have. I’m their medical parent. For children who have a tracheotomy, they may need a suction to maintain their airway. I ensure their [feeding] tubes are running. 

BLOOM: What is it like working with this population?

Shevonne Thatham:
It’s about empowering the families and giving them that hope and courage that their child will make it home. Some of these kids were diagnosed at birth, so it was life changing for their parents. It’s giving them that hope that everything is okay, despite their differences. You can still have a life and a family.

BLOOM: You must develop very deep connections with these kids.

Shevonne Thatham:
Yes. They can’t communicate with me, because many of them are non-verbal. But I know exactly what’s going on with them. Non-verbal communication is key, and learning to read them—whether it’s an elevated heart rate or a grimace in their face.

BLOOM: What’s most challenging about this work?

Shevonne Thatham:
Advocating for someone who is non-verbal. Every child is different. We’re at the bedside and we’re the first level of contact with these kids. Sometimes it’s hard for physicians, who are more focused on the medical, to understand something may be about comfort. When I advocate, it’s not what I want, it’s what the client needs.

Another challenge is that when the family comes to Holland Bloorview, the parents are in that grieving stage. They’re dealing with a lot of anger and emotions. With families, sometimes I need to be a social worker, which is not my field. I need to think about how I say what I need to say in the appropriate way, that is caring and compassionate as well. Sometimes it’s sitting with parents and if they’re crying, I’m crying.

BLOOM: What are the joys?

Shevonne Thatham:
There’s so much. Doing what I love to do. Seeing a smile on a child’s face or parents saying thank you. Knowing that I’ve made a difference or that I’m helping to better their chances of going home quickly. Advocating. Teaching families and teaching clients who are able to do their own self-care. Aiding in their everyday life.

BLOOM: What emotions come with the job?

Shevonne Thatham:
Frustration. It’s hard to understand, sometimes, what is going on with a client. Happiness. Moments of happiness. Moments of anger, because why? You just think ‘Why is this happening to these families?’ Being able to be a person in their lives, so when the family comes back here later for respite, the child remembers you, and you know you left an imprint in their life.

BLOOM: How do you manage those emotions?

Shevonne Thatham:
I’m a spiritual person, so I would pray for my families and for myself. I bring everything to God. I also use music, driving home, to debrief.

BLOOM: What have you learned from families?

Shevonne Thatham:
 They’re taking on a new job that they’ve not signed up for, or gone to school for. And in the end, they’re able to be the parent, the nurse and the doctor for their own child. Families have taught me that they’re strong people.

BLOOM: If you had to give yourself advice on your first day, from where you sit now, what would you say?

Shevonne Thatham:
Put your heart into it. Everything good comes from the heart. If this is where you want to be, show it, and it will manifest a beautiful outcome.

BLOOM: If you could change one thing about children’s rehab, what would it be?

Shevonne Thatham:
I think we’re going in the right direction, and since I got here there are more opportunities for kids who have a trache to do normal daily activities. I’d like it if we had a really shallow end in our pool, because despite having a trache, a lot of our kids want to be in the pool. It would be great if we had some sort of protection for the trache, so that they could go in the water.