“When was the last time I sat and held a patient’s hand?”



3 Butterfly Wall

RN Tiffany Smith sees nursing through the eyes of a former patient, now training to be a nurse.

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior writer, mgilmer1@iuhealth.org

Seven years ago, Harleigh Perry was a scared 15-year-old going into surgery at Riley Hospital for Children. She had her mom and her dad by her side, but she also had special nurses who helped her heal.

Today, Perry is back at Riley, but on the other side of the bed. She is gaining clinical hours as part of her last semester in nursing school at Indiana State University.

The Anderson native is being precepted by RN Tiffany Smith, who just so happens to have been one of Perry’s nurses back in 2015.

It couldn’t have worked out better for both of them.

“I always knew I wanted to go into healthcare because my great-grandpa was a physician and he was a great influence in my life,” Perry said.

But she didn’t know if she wanted to be a physician, a nurse or a physical therapist.

Until she met Smith.

And this is when she begins to cry, as memories from seven years ago come rushing back.

“Having Tiffany as my nurse – she was just so passionate, so attentive. You’re at your lowest point – oh my goodness,” Perry’s voice comes out in a whisper, as she wipes tears from her eyes. “You’re so vulnerable when you’re in that state after surgery. I couldn’t shower, and I felt disgusting.”

Harleigh and Tiffany at Riley Children's Health

But Smith, a new nurse at the time, gave her young patient the extra care she needed. She styled her hair into French braids. She held her hand when the pain was bad.

Smith doesn’t remember holding her hand, but Perry won’t forget it.

Hearing Perry tell her now how much that meant to her at the time, though, is a good reminder for Smith.

“I thought, ‘When was the last time I just sat and held a patient’s hand?’ Healthcare is tiring right now, and it is easy to get into the rhythm of what you have to do, but it’s important to remember the little things like handholding and hair-braiding,” Smith said.

Because the little things are really big things to some people.

Graduation party 2018

“It’s a reminder that you don’t know how much you affect each patient,” Perry said. “You might have four patients today and four more tomorrow, but this might be the one vulnerable person who will remember you forever.”

For Smith, looking at nursing through a fresh pair of eyes helps her refocus in the midst of COVID fatigue.

“It’s been refreshing for me to be around her excitement,” she said of Perry, whom she calls a “bright light.”

“The opportunity to be her capstone preceptor for her final semester of nursing school is such a full-circle, rewarding opportunity for me.”

On the day that we caught up with Smith and Perry, they were working on the rehab unit at Riley and went in to check on a young patient named Chandler Smith (no relation).

The 2-year-old’s eyes lit up when they came into the room, and they stood on either side of the bed playing word games with him to boost his vocabulary.

Smith and Perry high five patient Chandler Smith

Nearby, a celebration was taking place as another young patient who had just completed treatment rang the discharge bell and pinned his butterfly on the wall.

Perry watched in awe as the “rehab grad” squealed in delight, “I did it!” He then high-fived and hugged team members who came to say goodbye.

“Oh my goodness, how sweet is that,” she said. “This just heightens my passion for nursing.”

This is Perry’s first experience working in a children’s hospital, and she said it brought back a lot of memories from her own hospitalization.

“I don’t know how to navigate all of my emotions right now.”

She looks back fondly on a motorcycle ride she did with her dad to raise money for Riley a few years ago.

Perry on a motorcycle with her father

“I cried the whole time, especially coming into the hospital and seeing all the nurses.”

She is not sure where she will land after graduation in May but hopes to find her niche in an Indianapolis-area hospital.

One thing she is sure of: “If I can give my patients half of the care that Tiffany gave me, I will be an exceptional nurse. Knowing I have the opportunity to learn from her is so incredible, and I am so thankful.”

Photos submitted and by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist, mdickbernd@iuhealth.org