By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist, firstname.lastname@example.org
Registered nurses at Riley Hospital for Children all wear bright red smocks, but they don’t all wear classic low-top Chucks.
Jennifer Barnette wears both. The PICU nurse says she goes through a new pair of sneakers every six months.
“They’re my go-to shoes.”
And she’s always going.
The day we caught up with her she was floating to the step-down unit in cardiovascular intensive care because that department’s census was high and needed help.
Barnette, a Riley nurse since 1997, started in the hospital’s former preschool unit but likes to say she graduated to the PICU in 1999 and has been there working weekends ever since.
When needed, she might float to the NICU, CVICU or the burn unit, but the PICU is still her home.
In school, Barnette thought she wanted to work with older patients, and she found satisfaction in hospice care before graduation. But when Riley called to offer her a job, she didn’t hesitate.
It’s where she is supposed to be, she believes.
“A lot of the kids (her critically ill patients) I never get to see awake. I never get to see the person they are, but I feel like I get to know the entire family. In 12 hours you get immersed in their dynamic. It’s draining, but I think it’s what I’m supposed to be doing,” she said.
“This is probably the most horrible experience a family has had in their life, and a lot of times the outcomes are not good. But I’m here to help the family through that.”
Sometimes she helps just by telling stories. Stories that revolve around her three kids and the small farm she grew up on in Brownsburg. She still lives on that old property, now surrounded by new modern homes in neat subdivisions.
With her husband, Jim, she raises chickens, horses, rabbits, cats, dogs and ducks. The kids are almost all raised, leaving her to worry about having an empty nest, but animals keep finding their way to her house.
“I don’t have a lot of hobbies,” she said. “I feed critters all day.”
All of it gives her something to talk about, and talking is what she does best.
When that talk turns to her patients, Barnette surprises herself by getting a little teary-eyed.
“I don’t talk about my job a lot. I can’t go home and talk about anything, so it all just sits. When I do get to talk about my job and actually feel it, I feel it.”
Because the job is hard.
“Sometimes you think, why? Why does this family have to deal with this? And you know that could be any one of us. It makes you see life so differently.”
Grief and death are a part of life and part of a nurse’s job, but Barnette knows better than to think she has it figured out.
“I have honest to God seen miracles,” she said. “That’s a neat thing to experience in life.”
Photos by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist, email@example.com