Family affair

For mother-daughter critical care nurses, health care really is a family affair

Critical care nurse Cheryl Carlson is no stranger to working with her family over her 37-year career.

Chad, Scott, Cheryl, Annika and Kyle Carlson

Her eldest son, Chad Carlson, RN, 28, worked in intensive care at Aurora Medical Center in Colorado before moving to California. Simultaneously, her second child, Kyle Carlson, 27, a paramedic firefighter in Lewisville, Colorado, sometimes picked up or dropped off patients at the hospital where her mother and brother worked. And although he works at another hospital, her husband Scott is a certified nurse anesthetist.

And now she’s getting to work with her daughter, 23-year-old RN Annika Carlson, the latest Carlson member to bring her knowledge and expertise to Aurora Medical Center.

While Cheryl and Chad’s working relationship may have been a bit more reserved, she and Annika have been seen hugging or holding hands while walking the halls of ICU since Annika started working there in September 2020. But as much as the Carlson women love working together, for them it’s all about the patient and their family. Although the couple always think of each other as mother-daughter during their hospital rounds, they become colleagues the moment they walk into a patient’s room.

“I want to take care of the patient without them knowing we’re related,” Cheryl said. Medscape Medical News. “It’s about the patient and their well-being, not about us.”

As nurses, however, caring for patients for days at a time, the Carlsons sometimes can’t help but get close to them. Instances where patients find out that Cheryl and Annika are related only builds trust between patient and healthcare workers. You could compare this to the comfort and familiarity of shopping at a mom-and-pop type family store – you know you’re in good hands.

For Cheryl and Annika, working side by side provides an extra dose of motivation and strength.

With the stress of the pandemic over the past 2 years, the value of working side-by-side with a family member is even more valuable. “We’re seeing younger patients with COVID, and for me, I always think, ‘This could be my kid,'” Cheryl said. “It hits terribly close to home when [the patients are], you know, 24 or 28 years old. It’s hard.”

Although critical care personnel are a quasi-family unit unto themselves, or at least as close as possible to a workplace, there is still no such thing as the bond of blood relatives. “If we’re having a bad day, sometimes just a hug from him, it’s like, okay, I can get through the rest of this day. We have this, we can do this,” Cheryl said. Working with her daughter brings her a sense of warmth and security, she said.

“It is every parent’s wish to raise their children to be productive members of society. But being able to work side by side,” Cheryl said, “has been an honor.”

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