Healthy People Interview: Susan Delacruz, RN, Neonatal ICU Nurse, Pastor’s Wife
December 28, 2014
ReadHealthy: Do you remember when you first decided you wanted to become a nurse?
Susan Delacruz: The very first time I said that I wanted to be a nurse was when I was a little girl and was playing war with my two brothers. My brothers and I were very close. I remember making “pills” out of bread and smashing it together into small balls. I made them swallow them whole. Fun memories. When I was fourteen, I spent the summer helping an elderly woman who was a brittle diabetic. I of course did not know what that meant. But I fixed her lunch every day and cleaned her house. One day she was very shaky and I had to give her an insulin shot. I felt like I was a nurse. I think the biggest part of my decision for nursing was that I love people and I love helping them.
RH: What type of schooling did you have to complete, and what degrees do you currently hold?
SD: I first had to complete two years of basic education classes for my prerequisites for the nursing program. When I was eligible to apply for the nursing program, there were 440 applicants. However, the program only was able to accept 88. I was a mother of three young children and worked full-time while attending school. My grade point average was a high “B” average. But due to the number of applicants, they only chose those who had a 4.0 average. They suggested that I attend the License Practical Nursing School (LPN) and then later on enroll in the bridge program. The LPN program accepted me and I began a very intense year of full-time schooling while working at the hospital 24 hours every weekend and working 17.5 hours at my children’s school in the afterschool program. How I made it through that year is a mystery. My husband was my biggest fan and biggest help. I currently have an Associate’s Degree in Science. I have had a nursing license in five states.
RH: What was the beginning of your nursing career like?
SD: I had already begun working as a secretary in the hospital in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. I totally loved the babies and was hooked. I had been there two and a half years by the time I graduated from the LPN program and received my license. They hired me and trained me to take care of premature and sick babies. I began in 1995. It was very scary at first. The babies seemed so fragile and decisions had no room for error.
RH: What types of settings have you worked in over the course of your career?
SD: I have mostly worked in the hospital setting in the NICU area. During the years that my husband attended Bible College, I worked at the college as the school nurse for four years. I continued to work at the hospital as a NICU nurse full-time during this time as well. When we moved to Arkansas, the hospital is a very small hospital. Very sick or premature babies are shipped elsewhere. The unit is for labor and delivery, postpartum, gynecological patients, and nursery. The nursery will keep babies that require minor respiratory support, IV fluids and medications, and other minor medical needs.
RH: When/where was your first job working with babies in ICU? Was that something you knew you wanted to do? If so, why did you think you would enjoy that work? What was your first impression and reaction to working with the babies?
SD: My first job was in the NICU in Ft. Myers, Florida. I absolutely loved it! Having the ability to play a vital role in the survival of a little tiny baby was the most incredibly rewarding job. To this day, I have friends who were the families of the babies I cared for in the NICU. Recently, I was tagged on Facebook by one couple, thanking me for taking such great care of their two pound, two ounce baby who was born premature six years ago. There is no other nursing career like it. Even in my job today, it is not the same as the job in the NICU. You really bond with the parents and help them during the most desperate situations in their life. You become part of their family forever.
RH: What were some challenges that came with nursing that you didn’t expect or you weren’t prepared for? What are some of the most difficult things about your job?
SD: I would say the hardest challenges and the most difficult times in my nursing is in the loss of one of these little babies. It is never easy. It is never routine or just part of the job. It is a loss! It is heartbreak and it leads to soul-searching. It is questioning yourself if you really did all you could. It is something you take home with you at the end of the day and go hug your babies at home. Last year, one of my friends (who ironically became my friend after I was her OB Nurse and invited her to church with me) texted me at 3:00 in the morning that she was headed to the hospital, that it was time for her baby to be born. I was excited for her and told her that I was working the next day. She texted me that morning and said that they could not find a heartbeat. She had a full-term miscarriage. That day, I was her nurse as well as her friend, and her pastor. We cried together, prayed together, and held her sweet baby together. We may never understand why God would allow this tragedy to happen. But, in that room with all the sadness and grief, my friend felt God’s presence. She found comfort in the midst of her deepest pain. It has joined us together in our friendship and given us a special bond together. I have been able to be a support system for her in her difficult times.
RH: Can you discuss how being around babies who are very sick, and their families, affects you emotionally? How have you learned to cope with the emotional aspect of your job over the years? What strategies and tactics do you use to stay balanced and focused for yourself and for your patients and their families?
SD: I think that I have been in this long enough to be able to know enough successful outcomes to help the families of these babies. When my son was two years old, they discovered that he needed to have heart surgery to correct a defect. This was prior to me becoming a nurse. I was scared and had many of the same emotions that the families of the babies I care for have now. In fact, I have since taken care of babies that have had the exact same surgery. I have been able to be on their side of the situation and also the side of the caregiver. This has allowed me to have great empathy for these families. Throughout my career, I have also had numerous accounts in which I not just cared for my patients and their families, physically and emotionally, but I have really felt very privileged to share my faith with them. It has been what has carried me through many hard times. One particular family was so moved and happy that I prayed with them, they purchased a Bible and had my name engraved into the cover. They wrote me a wonderful letter on the inside. I have cherished this Bible ever since.
RH: How do you see your role in communicating with families of the babies that you care for? How can you provide emotional support, accurate medical information? Are there restriction on what you can say or how you can interact with families, and certain conversations that the MDs have with families instead?
SD: With communicating with the parents of these precious babies, it is important to remember that no matter if the baby will only require respiratory support for a few days or if the baby is a very small premature baby, this was not in their plans, to have a baby that would be separated from them at birth, or that they might even be discharged before their baby. It is a stressful time for any family. The biggest help to these parents is to acknowledge their feelings, and give them an accurate explanation about what is wrong with their baby in lay terms so that they understand. Also, I give them some idea of what the doctor may choose to do. I tell them that I am just a nurse and not the doctor, but this is the usual way that he/she treats this. Most of the times, the doctor then says the exact same thing that I said, so it gives them a second voice telling them the same thing. The restrictions would only be to hold back on giving abnormal results to the parents until the doctor has had a chance to talk with the parents. Then usually I ask the parents what the doctor said and ask if they understood. I then try to help them to understand in lay terms as best as possible.
RH: Do you remember the first time you lost an infant patient? How did it affect you? What went through your mind? How did you cope?
SD: I would have to say that the first time I lost a little preemie, it was very unexpected. I had gotten the report from the nurse who was leaving her shift. Unbeknownst to us, the infant had bacteria in its intestines even while it was in the uterus. Before morning, the baby had died. You never take it well. I remember going home and crying. I told my husband that I was not cut out to be a nurse. I wouldn’t be able to handle this. He prayed with me and let me cry. He encouraged me to go back to work the next night. I did. That was the hardest night to go back. But I did. It never gets easy. We never get immune to death. It is always a tragedy, and a tremendous loss. But my faith had helped me and my patients.
RH: What is the most rewarding part of your job? What keeps you going back day after day, despite long shift, little sleep, high stress, etc.?
SD: I totally love being a nurse. It truly is the best profession. I get to help people in the most difficult situations of their lives. Seeing the little babies go home that were so sick, is the biggest reward to know that you had a part in that life. I truly love it! I have convinced two or three mothers of infants I cared for to become nurses. It’s because it is the best job you can have.
RH: Have you had any professional mentors along the way? Are there people who stand out in your career path who have offered you education, advice, guidance, emotional support?
SD: There have been many. I could write a book on this one. One particular nurse helped me when I had just moved to Springfield, Missouri, and was extremely lonely. I had not really made any friends. I remember praying that God would let me have a friend. Well, that day I went to work. The nurse who was orientating me to the unit had a gift for me. She said she saw it and just thought it would be a nice gift. I opened it and it was a Thomas Kincade book of Christmas pictures. But the title of the book was, “Friendships.” She wrote inside the book and signed, “Your new friend, Cheryl” My mentor for the job that I am at now, Betty Dutton, helped me with my fear of caring for adults. I had never taken care of adults throughout my whole career before I moved here to Arkansas. She is an LPN and looks down on herself because she is not an RN (Registered Nurse). She has been a LPN nurse for 40 years. Her knowledge is incredible! After my orientation with her, I felt like I was competent to care for adult females.
RH: You have traveled all over the country and held nursing jobs in many different states. Looking at the differences between those jobs, the people, the procedures, the environments, have you learned anything about what type of job/people/setting makes you most happy? Anything about what you don’t want in a job?
SD: I have worked at a lot of different hospitals. Probably the hardest one was in Morristown, New Jersey. It was the busiest hospital and I saw the sickest babies ever. This hospital was a teaching hospital and had a lot of resident students. I really did not like working with the different residents. Also, at my current place of employment, I was required to be trained to be a labor nurse. This is not for me. I worked over a year, maybe close to two years as a labor nurse and never felt comfortable or competent in this area. I do not like this part. As I have now gone to a prn (as-needed) position, I am no longer required to work this area.
RH: How do you balance the demands of a busy nursing job with raising four children, managing a home, being a wife, and being involved in your church community as a children’s pastor’s wife? What helps—staying organized, writing a schedule, catching naps, delegating work around the house, etc.?
SD: The number one thing that helps me balance and stay on top of everything is my husband. He truly is the best partner. He will do laundry, wash dishes, and help with homework; whatever is needed without being asked. We work together and prioritize. My calendar is essential. If I lose my calendar I am a sinking ship. It keeps everything organized. I also have to have my schedule for the hospital a month in advance. That helps and also hinders at the same time. I can plan around my work, but sometimes I have to jiggle the schedule with someone else to make it work for the church calendar.
RH: Can you discuss how being a Christian plays a part in how you do your job? Does it affect how you communicate with families, how you cope with the emotional work, or other aspects of your job? How do faith and the medical system work together for you when many people often believe that science and faith are opposites?
SD: As you can see from my previous answers, my faith is a huge part of who I am as a nurse and as a person. It is not a religion or just some beliefs. It is a friendship with the creator. One that is personal and intimate. To me, science and faith are not opposites. They work hand in hand. When I took my anatomy and physiology class and saw how intricately we are made and designed, it made me more in awe of our creator. There is no way that we could evolve into something so complicated with the lock and key mechanisms of the endocrine system. But aside from science, knowing God personally has helped me to be able to care more deeply for people. What a privilege that I get to be part of a family’s worst crisis in their life. I pray for guidance and ask God to help me to choose my words. I ask God to give me clarity as I prepare medications and give them to these little babies, so that I will not make a mistake. I feel that my faith and I are inseparable.
RH: What do you hope your family has learned from your example of being a nurse, caring for others, balancing work and family and faith? What lessons do you hope others will take away from what you do in your career every day?
SD: I would hope that my children have learned to be compassionate. Not to be so quick to jump to conclusions about people, because you have no idea what that person has faced that day. From the medical field, you know that people’s lives can change in an instant. Also, I hope that my family, coworkers, and friends will see that my faith is available for them too. I have found so much strength from my relationship with Jesus that I would love for them to choose the same for their lives. However, I do not push it down their throats. (Maybe with my kids I did.) But I try to be sensitive to other’s feelings. My work ethic is good. I taught my children to work and be a giver, not a taker. Be responsible, fulfill your promises, and be trustworthy. As far as taking time for me, nurses are the worst at this. I hardly ever take time for myself. I guess that is my weakness.
RH: What advice would you give to someone who was considering a career in nursing? What challenges might they not expect? What questions should they ask themselves to help decide if it is the right path for them?
SD: I love being a nurse. I tell everyone that they should consider it. I have never lacked a job and have always been able to provide for my family. It is the most rewarding job. It is does have its struggles. Schooling was hard. The testing for license was hard. Also, the medical profession is in constant change. What was considered best practice last week may not be acceptable practice today. You are constantly learning and growing. So if someone has trouble with change, they would have trouble with nursing. But still, I believe it is the best job ever.
RH: What do you wish more people knew or understood about nurses’ roles?
SD: We work long hours, sometimes go without lunch, hold our pee for hours, and put our own needs last. Sometimes the patients and families just don’t realize the sacrifices that nurses make. We make them willingly, and wouldn’t trade it for anything, but every once in a while you have a horrible day and you can’t say why to your other patients due to HIPAA (the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) laws. But, they can’t understand why it took you so long to get back to them with their pain medicine or their ice, or whatever need they have. You may have been just doing CPR on someone’s infant and not had success in saving that precious little life. That is a hard day.