Hutt Hospital, New Zealand (pre-1950), photographer unknown
Hutt Hospital, New Zealand (pre-1950), photographer unknown

Is motherhood so very different from the harrowing profession of nursing? Okay, the first doesn’t pay a salary. But each demands bravery, deep empathy, a degree of real selflessness, and patience with a capital P. Ashley Krumrine, an MFA student at the University of Baltimore, has logged many nursing hours caring for patients she will never forget. As a young mom, she strives to strike a balance between her ongoing career and busy home life. Happy Mother’s Day to female caregivers everywhere.

Critical Care, 2016

“Do they know he has an ST elevation?” I interrupt the night nurse, as she is giving my student and me her report.  

“We’ve paged the cardiac team several times, but they are holding off on taking him to the Cath Lab,” she replies.

We walk into the patient’s room, student nurse in tow, and begin to give bedside handoff. The patient is restless, wincing, grabbing at his chest, but is unable to vocalize his concerns, due to the breathing tube lodged in his throat. Chest pain, he shakily writes out on the whiteboard.

“I know,” I tell him, not liking the rhythm strip moving across the monitor. “I’m going to talk to the doctor when we are done report.”

He slams his hands down onto the bed in frustration, but we move to the next room to continue our handoff. Unsurprisingly, the poor man starts pounding away at the call light, almost immediately after we leave his room. 

Once the night nurse is relieved, we head back into our ST elevation patient’s room to answer his call light. Taking two steps into the doorway, I watch as his eyes roll back and the classic sawtooth pattern of V-tach begins scrolling across his monitor.

“PUSH THE CODE BUTTON!” I scream to my student, while feeling for a pulse. I drop the head of his bed, climb up onto the side, and begin chest compressions.

It isn’t until another nurse taps me on my shoulder to relieve my spot with compressions that I realize a dozen nurses and doctors have already entered the room, assuming their various positions for my coding patient—bagging his ET tube, pushing meds, attaching pads, and running the defibrillator.

We all work seamlessly as a team, resulting in our patient’s return of circulation.

After stabilizing him, we carefully push the patient down to the Catch Lab, a ventilator, two IV polls, and my wide-eyed and silent student nurse in tow.

NICU, 2018

“You get to snuggle babies all day!” is the comment I often get when I tell people I am a NICU nurse. Little did they know there is so much more to this job.

Cradling the four-pound babe, I walk over to the glider, careful not to tangle or pull on the various monitoring cables, oxygen tubing, or feeding tube coming from her little body. After sitting down, I raise the foot of the recliner and my extremely swollen ankles off the ground. I place the sleeping infant belly down on my chest, her tiny bum resting on my swollen baby bump.

It is crazy to think that this little girl who entered the world too early is the same gestational age and size as the one still growing in my belly. My daughter begins to kick and push from the inside, and I wonder if she knows I am holding another babe just like her.

“I bet you are done being pregnant,” my co-worker says to me.

 “Ehhh,” I reply. “I am done with these swollen ankles, but she can keep cooking for a little longer.”

Relaxing from the sway of the glider, I close my eyes, grateful for my healthy baby, and my almost full-term pregnancy.

Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, 2019

Impatiently waiting for the clock to read 0700, I change out of my scrubs, back into my street clothes, and fill up a venti-sized cup of ice chips. I anticipate the fatigue that will consume me on the drive home and know that munching on ice chips is the only thing that will keep me awake behind the wheel.

Pulling into the driveway, I have a sense of deja vu, knowing my body was on autopilot with each stop and turn I made on the way home.

I drag my tired body into the house, saying a wordless hello to my husband.

“How was work?” he asks, getting himself ready to leave for his teaching gig.

“Good,” I lie, trying to not unpack my night at the start of his day.

I sit on the couch and attach the breast pump—the calming rhythm begins to put me to sleep.

“Babe, I’m leaving,” my husband says, startling me awake. He places our 12-month-old daughter on the playmat at my feet. At this stage of her toddlerhood, gone are the morning and afternoon naps. My 12-hour shift has now turned into an 18-hour shift in which I count down the hours until I can put her to bed.

I disconnect the pump from my chest and walk shirtless over to the kitchen to start breakfast—or should I say dinner. 

After eating, I take my daughter to the playroom. Setting her up with some toys and turning on Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, I lie myself down next to her on the playroom floor.

“All right, Char, mommy is just going to close her eyes for a few minutes,” I admit to the toddler. Dozing off, I pray that she doesn’t choke on anything while I am asleep.

NICU, 2019

“We just got a call. Mom delivered baby at home and is only 23 weeks,” my charge nurse tells me.

“Um, okay,” I say, heading to the warmer to prep for the babe’s arrival. No matter how many times I’ve done this, calls like this continue to fuel my adrenaline and nerves.

“I will call for Peds,” she says.

I set up suctioning, ET tube tape, and IV supplies, then EMS rolls in with a tiny, probably one-pound infant, wrapped in a silver thermal blanket.

“Baby was born 25 minutes ago. We’ve been doing compressions since we arrived, but have not gotten a pulse,” EMS says in a quick debrief.

Placing the infant under the warmer, I assume the position for chest compressions, respiratory gives the baby breaths, and Peds preps to intubate. Switching off chest compressions, I assist Peds with taping the ET tube, then begin to prepare for umbilical line insertion. Once Peds places the line, epinephrine is administered, and we continue through the motions, holding our breaths for movement or a pulse.

At some point, EMS brings in the mom on a stretcher, her pale, post-birth face filled with shock, sadness. She silently cries and watches as we attempt to resuscitate her extremely premature babe, her partner at her side.

After multiple rounds of Epi, Peds grabs her stethoscope, auscultating for a heartbeat.

“Time of death…” she says.

Wrapping the baby up, and placing them in mom’s arms, I hold back tears, only able to imagine how I would feel if I was the one on that stretcher.

School Nurse, 2020 to date

Joyful enthusiasm. The feeling I get walking into my first day of being a school
nurse. Joy that work probably won’t be life or death. Joy that I will have
a normal sleep schedule. Joy that I will have more time with my family.
Not to mention, my perfectionist side is alive, getting to decorate my desk
with all the cute sticky notes, family photos, pencil holders, and Hobby Lobby

Humbled. The feeling I get when a little boy walks into the health suite,
hair disheveled and face streaked with mud. The health assistant grabs a basin
off the shelf and ushers the little boy to the sink. I watch as she helps him
wash his face, style his hair, and brush his teeth. She then gives him a new
shirt and pants and leads him to the bathroom to change.

“He’s homeless,” she tells me, once he returns to class. “We assist him with
personal hygiene before school each day.”

Flexibility. The free feeling I get picking my daughter up from school, like a
normal parent. After surprising her at pickup, I tell her we need to run some
errands. And what are errands without a strawberry-sprinkle donut from Dunkin’?

“Mom, this isn’t the way to get to our Walmart,” my daughter says, from the
backseat of the car.

I take a minute, not knowing what to comment on—being proud that my
five-year-old knows the regular route to Walmart, or the fact that she is
already being slightly OCD like her mama.

I simply say, “Well, Charlotte, that’s the best part about life—there
are multiple ways to get to the same destination.”

Hope. Hope that this is where I am supposed to be in my current season of

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1 Comment

  1. Ashley, thank you for sharing these harrowing, yet transformative experiences. I’m super glad for you that you now have a stable job/existence in this season of your life. Great writing – I look forward to a lot more!

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