For Mother-Daughter ICU Nurses, Healthcare Is Truly a Family Affair

Jill Burke

December 13, 2021

ICU nurse Cheryl Carlson, RN, is no stranger to working with her family over the course of her 37-year career.

Chad, Scott, Cheryl, Annika, and Kyle Carlson

Her oldest son, Chad Carlson, RN, 28, worked in the ICU of the Medical Center of Aurora in Colorado before moving to California. Simultaneously, her second child, Kyle Carlson, 27, a fire paramedic in Lewisville, Colorado, would occasionally pick up or drop off patients at the hospital where both his mom and brother were working. And although he works at a different hospital, husband Scott is a certified registered nurse anesthetist.

And now, she gets to work with her daughter, Annika Carlson, RN, 23, the latest Carlson member to lend her knowledge and expertise to the Medical Center of Aurora.

While Cheryl and Chad's work relationship may have been a bit more reserved, she and Annika have been seen hugging or holding hands while walking the halls of the ICU since Annika began working there in September 2020. But as much as the Carlson women enjoy working together, to them, it's really all about the patient and the patient's family. Although the pair still see themselves as mother-daughter while making their rounds at the hospital, they transition to co-workers as soon as they walk into a patient's room.

"I want to take care of the patient without them knowing that we're related," Cheryl told Medscape Medical News. "It's about the patient and their well-being, not us."

As nurses, however, taking care of patients for days at a time, the Carlsons sometimes can't help but grow close to them. The instances when patients do discover that Cheryl and Annika are related only strengthen the trust between patient and healthcare workers. One might liken it to the comfort and familiarity of shopping at a family-owned, mom-and-pop type store — you know you're in good hands.

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

With the stress of the pandemic over the course of 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 to myself, I always think, 'This could be my child,' " Cheryl said. "It hits awfully close to home when [the patients are], you know, 24 or 28 years old. That's hard."

While the ICU staff is a quasi–family unit in itself, or at least as close as it can get in a workplace, there's still nothing quite like the bond of blood relatives. "If we're having a bad day, sometimes just a hug from her is like, okay, I can get through the rest of this day. We got 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 to be able to actually work side by side," Cheryl said, "has been an honor."

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