By Matt Skoufalos
Kate Locke can recall vividly when she first believed that she might be cut out for pediatric nursing. Locke was interviewing for a position at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), and saw a young patient come past with a nurse in tow. The child was attached to a feeding pump, but that didn’t stop him from romping past with his Little Tikes pushcar, happy as could be.
“I didn’t have any experience with sick kids, but he was smiling and playing, and something just clicked,” Locke said.
Later, she found she’d happened upon an axiomatic truth.
“Kids could have a day to live, and all they want to do is watch a movie and go to the playroom,” she said.
Before she was hired at CHOP, Locke was placed there for the work-study component of her undergraduate degree program at Drexel University in Philadelphia. An early interest in geriatric nursing dissolved away once she was in the pediatric setting, and as a result, she’s spent the past 11 years at CHOP. Locke started in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) and transitioned to the cardiac catheterization lab almost five years ago.
“I’ve seen everything,” she said. “We have our own cardiac ICU, which just furthered my education. It’s a total change of pace.”
Locke said the differences in the pace and nature of the jobs in the two units present distinct challenges. Although she misses the close patient work she enjoyed in her previous role, the technological advancements in which she’s participated in the cath lab, including its lymphatic program, have been nothing short of groundbreaking. Working with physician Yoav Dori, Locke said she’s gotten a close look at one of the least-understood systems of the body, and has met patients from all over the world.
“Your lymphatic channels are microscopic,” she said. “[Dori] finds the pathway, closes it off, and he’s been able to cure things that have never been cured before. When we follow up with him, we’ll find out that kids lost all the weight from the fluid that they were collecting and they’re back in school.”
Still, Locke said she isn’t ready to give up entirely on the idea of a career with more of a focus on bedside care. She knows that her skills as a nurse will ever be at least partially contingent upon her ability to deal with patients and their personalities, and Locke said that keeping those tools sharp is a constant challenge.
“New nurses are getting a reputation of not being able to help themselves because they’re always on their computers,” she said. “When I started, it was half and half, so you had to rely on your instincts.”
“I feel like we have two different lives,” she said. “In the PICU, I really bonded with the families. It’s different in the procedural areas. Going into the cath lab, you lose a lot of your patient care and one-on-one time. I’m not ready to get rid of that. I enjoy working with patients and their families. It’s really important so we don’t lose our basic skills.”
Many nurses can trace their roots in the career to an interest inspired by a parent or relative, and although Locke doesn’t have a family lineage in the profession, her children may one day say otherwise. Now in her third pregnancy, all of which she’s undertaken while working at CHOP, Locke said the support of her coworkers has been instrumental.
“I’m one of the youngest in the cath lab,” she said; “everybody has already had kids, and they all understand. I’m really lucky.”
Of course, being a parent of young children and a pediatric nurse, Locke is particularly sensitive to the impact of health and safety concerns that affect children. Her concession to the dual nature of her responsibilities is to focus on the care of her patients with the love of a family member.
“I feel like when we bring them into the procedural area, you treat them like they’re your own kids,” Locke said. “You’re their voice.”
“There’s something about kids and being there for the parents,” she said. “You have to be their rock, and you have to be OK doing that.”
In addition to working on a modified schedule during her pregnancy, Locke also operates a home-based small business called Infinnity Kids. It began as a side pursuit when her daughter, Finnley, was five months old, and Locke started making clothes for her.
“I hated [store-bought] bibs,” Locke said, “but I love seeing kids wearing stuff that I made.”
When pictures of her children in handmade accessories started popping up, friends and family asked where they could get some. She opened an Etsy.com shop on her birthday three years ago, and it’s been growing ever since. Infinnity Kids now offers bibs, headbands, bowties, hair clips, bags and purses.
“We’re trying to get into more stores; that’s the next step,” Locke said “I went to school for nursing, not business, but I design and make everything myself. I sketch it out and sew it up and fiddle with it.”
Locke said she’s “always been very crafty.” Making clothes is a hobby she traces to the punk rock aesthetic of middle school, when she spent days with an old sewing machine her mother called “the tank.”
“I always had my own style,” Locke said. “I used to cut up my jeans and make bags. I’m a fabric hoarder.”
Although she said she’s never taken a sewing class, Locke is committed to continuing her nursing education, and could see her career someday transitioning into community health and patient/family education. She also credits the strength of her Drexel co-op education with helping her develop the critical foundation in nursing that helped solidify her career path.
“Nothing is as effective as having that experience,” Locke said. “The tests that you have to take, the licensing, was easier because I had hands-on experience.”