One Little Boy, One Nurse & One Photo: Glimpsing the Privilege of Human Healing

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Patient Care


by Bonnie Kerrick, RN, BSN

The black and white photograph has captured a certain moment in time. Something has happened or is about to happen, between the young nurse and the little boy.

The nurse, in her white starched uniform and pleated starchedcap, stands next to the little boy sitting in a hospital crib.  The crib side is down, and they have been talking.  The little boy looks up expectantly  at the nurse, and she looks back at him, her head slightly inclined toward his.  He looks like he feels very safe. He looks like he trusts her.

The little boy’s head seems out of proportion for a four year old, and it is. He was born with hydrocephalus  – water on the brain – a condition that has required surgical intervention several times already in his young life.

I am the young nurse at the  bedside, and the little boy is Bobby.  We have just finished a procedure where I push  on a plastic tube behind his ear a number of times, 20 sticks in my mind, which “shunts” the fluid from the ventricles in his brain into his urinary system. In fact, the valve is called  a shunt.  It doesn’t hurt him, it’s done four times a day, and he is used to it. It’s a part of his life. What is happening, just at this moment, is that Bobby is asking me if he can pump my shunt. In fact, his exact words, which stay with me to this day are, “Miss Dinsmore, now can I pump your shunt?”

As the photo was snapped, I am  trying to figure out how to respond. It doesn’t take me a minute to decide.

“Sure, Bobby,” I say. I take his little fingers and guide them behind my right ear, where he proudly  pushes rhythmically twenty times, helping  me as I have helped him. When it is done, he settles down for a nap, and I leave  his room to help other children and their parents.

This is the kind of nurse I was, and this photo, taken by a colleague in 1964,  hangs  in my bedroom where I can see it  every day. It is a touchstone from my past that reminds me  how joyous it can feel to be kind and  help  people feel comfortable with who they are.

© Bonnie Kerrick, RN, BSN

Bonnie Kerrick is the Editor of Confident Voices:  The Nurses’ Guide to Improving Communication & Creating Positive Workplaces!


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12 Responses to One Little Boy, One Nurse & One Photo: Glimpsing the Privilege of Human Healing

  1. This picture speaks so well of caring. Also the photo is a piece of nursing history, when the world was more “black and white” and people recovered in hospitals.

  2. JanetMPatterson says:

    Bonnie, You’ve described that moment so well. I’ve a photo similar, of my patient, her cabbage patch doll, and me all dressed in wings and fairy wands for Halloween one year. She’d been in hospital for 2 years by that time [early birth, complicated life] and was actually doing reasonably well for a child with complex issues, but not having peers to play with was getting old. I brought costumes for her and her doll, which helped some, but when I showed up to work in a matching outfit, she just lit up. Your picture and story took me right back there.

    • Beth_Boynton_RN_MS says:

      What a great story, Janet! If you can get permission from your patient or family or don’t think that is an issue and care to share in a blog post I’d love to celebrate her and you…and her doll! Dear moments in the human interface that we wouldn’t experience if we didn’t become nurses or doctors etc.

  3. Ginny Lefever says:

    Actually, I had a little boy named Jamey, who also had hydrocephalus, His several shunts didn’t need pumping, but they often malfunctioned. He died just after his 9th BD on Jan. 2nd, 1986…29 years ago today. Although he never walked, or talked, and was cortically blind, he taught a lot of what I know about nursing. He is why I became a nurse, and why I’m still a nurse, only now I’m in grad school. I’ll be an acute care/family nurse practitioner in Nov 2016 if I don’t die in the effort. Actually, I have a 4.0 at South University right now. Thanks, Jamey!

    • Beth_Boynton_RN_MS says:

      Thanks for another dear story, Ginny. Good luck in grad school and please consider an open invite to share more about Jamey and his teachings for you in a blogpost. I love celebrating these stories and people seem to enjoy them!

  4. Elaine Lange says:

    Nursing is, indeed, a privilege. Only in healthcare is one universally GIVEN respect and the permission to touch others in intimate and sometimes painful ways during their most vulnerable moments just by virtue of being a nurse.

  5. Ashok Chainani says:


    Thanks. This is just marvelous. Do let Bonnie know. I have worked with Anne Llewellyn for many years and I think I saw this in her post on the Case in Point site.

    On another note if you have time I’d like to talk to you about patient access in the home. In spite of this being the best site of care for most patients there is very little on adequate coverage and payment for nursing in thuis care setting. As I focus on patient access and public policy issues it will be insightful to get your views and any suggestions you may have on mobilizing this site of care as our population ages and needs care – preferably away from hospitals.



  6. Ashok Chainani says:

    Thanks for sharing this story and the incidence.

    Excellent reminder today of the value of nurses. Seems like we have forgotten how important nurses are to our lives. They truly enrich patient’ lives while they help patient heal.

    More needs to be done to highlight the value of the profession. Nurses can be the necessary traige to keep people out of hospitals into more favorable surroundings like the home, bypassing nursing home care whenever feasible.

    • Thank you for your feedback, Ashok. Please consider this blog if you have similar stories or ideas for highlighting the value of our work! It is hard to measure caring, listening, love, and in addition to our clinical expertise/experience, these are all so important. Supporting folks at home and making nursing home environments like home seem within our grasp. And yet, I think your point about the value of nurses is key. Healthcare leaders and patient advocates and nurses must respect and support the work we do! Ensuring appropriate staffing, training, positive work environments for healthcare professionals is an investment in safe, quality care!

      • Ashok Chainani says:


        Thanks for those additional words of wisdom. I wanted to ask for your permission to share your story internally ay Lilly with my colleagues that I hope you won’t mind. I recently joined the firm as a Director for Medicare Strategy after leaving a medical device firm.

        In full disclosure wanted to inform you of my affiliation and seek your permission. We have an internal blog where we share things of value like your story from 1964 and the trust and confidence he showed in you as his nurse. It could be very inspiring to my colleagues who all work towards common goals of serving patients.

        Ashok Chainani

What are your thoughts?