As a college student, almost every person I encounter asks me about my major and my dream job. I tell them all the same thing, "My major is neuroscience and I want to be a physician`s assistant in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU)." The PICU is an area of the hospital for children who are facing life-threatening illness or injuries that require around the clock care. As soon as I tell people this, you can immediately see that they are both surprised and concerned.
From their facial expressions alone, I already know what people are thinking. They wonder why I would want to surround myself with such sick children, such depressing situations, and bluntly, so much death and despair. This is the negative connotation the PICU has, and their facial expressions, along with their questions that follow, prove to me that most do not have the same upbeat and affirmative views I have of the PICU.
What most people envision of the PICU is a place of dying children, who receive constant bad news, and are surrounded by innate medical jargon and grey hospital walls — but, this is not what I see.
Now yes, the PICU is full of terminally ill children, but what I see and what most fail to see is the tremendous hope and optimism that supports the PICU walls. They fail to see the dauntlessness of the children behind every tube and wire. And, they fail to smell and taste the ethereality within the air.
Growing up with a terminally ill sister, my parents instilled an idea to me about the hospital I think all should believe. They told me that when you go to a hospital, you go there because you are sick and that when you leave the hospital, no matter where you go, that you are leaving better than before. Working in the PICU means that I will see these critically ill children every day fighting for their lives, but it also means that I will see them overcoming their greatest battles and leaving the hospital happier than before.
For those that ask me why I want to do this, it's easy for them to see one side, the side most see, the side where children leave and go back home healthier, but they often have a hard time understanding how this is still possible for the children that don't go home, for the children that ultimately pass away. With tears in my eyes, I tell them about pain and suffering. I tell them that when a child's final battle comes, it's never an easy one. It's easy to put a new tube in or to perform a surgery in order to make someone live longer, but what happens when that person can't live any longer? What happens when life is just too hard, and their pain is unbearable? Sometimes, that extra tube or surgery is not fixing anything, and just merely putting off the inevitable, it's merely buying time and not sparing pain. I want to be there in order to tell the children and their families that their life does not have to be spent in pain.
My job in the PICU will be to make these children comfortable, to make them happy in their days there. For those that get the opportunity to go home, I want to send them home happier and healthier than before. And for the children that don't get to go home, or don't go home healthier, I want to tell them about the glory to come. I want to help to rid them of all the suffering and stand by their side and support them in making their final decision to live happily and pain-free. So yes, I do know what the PICU is, and yes, I still want to work there.