Journal of Nursing

Mother, Daughter Share Their Mom Skills with Young Patients


Diane Tillman and Joyce Martin ride into La Rabida Children's Hospital on a wave of laughter.

They are smiling — always — and seem uniquely endowed with the emotion the hospital's patients need most: joy. 

Every Tuesday for four years, this mother/daughter team has come to rock sick babies, to color with kids fighting cancer, to patiently read to children whose days are consumed by nurse visits and beeping monitors.

It's a help to the South Side hospital, which relies heavily on volunteers to keep its sick children uplifted. But for Joyce and Diane, it's also a way to quench a maternal drive that at ages 48 and 66 has never dwindled.

Diane raised Joyce, and Joyce's three sons are almost grown up. But neither woman is ready to stop mothering.

"My youngest is 15 now," Joyce said, peering through the doorways of hospital rooms, searching for a patient to hug. "But I just feel like I still have so much to give. I can be here for these kids and remind them that they're loved, even when their parents aren't able to be here."

"It helps me get up and get out of bed in the morning," Diane said. "It keeps me young."

Diane found herself on a recent Tuesday stuffed into a seat three times too small for her, patiently reading a book called "There Was an Old Monster" to an inquisitive 9 year old.

The boy has a rare disorder that prevents him from feeling pain and has been in and out of La Rabida for a variety of injuries.

"What is this?" Diane asked, pointing at the page.

"A bird," said the boy, seated in a red wagon next to Diane's tiny chair.

"No, let's read and see. Oh, it's a lizard."

"A lizard!" the boy shouted with a toothy grin.

They finished the book and moved on to coloring while nurses hustled by and toddling patients walked the halls with therapists.

Jovette Barrera has been a nurse at La Rabida for more than two years and said Joyce and Diane each bring a maternal calm to the hospital.

"You notice that they have more of a patience about them," she said. "Kids pick up on those moods. We nurses have three or four patients each, and if you're frantic and frustrated it helps when somebody calm comes in, smiling and nice. The kids tune in with their mood. It helps tremendously.

"I think we're all a family — volunteers and doctors and nurses. It takes a village around here, it really does."

Joyce began volunteering at La Rabida not long after retiring from a career as a radio dispatcher for the Chicago Police Department. Years of listening to reports of tragedies and human suffering gave her a desire to lend a hand, and a hospital for children — many there because of abuse or neglect — made sense.

Her mother joined a month later.

The two have always been near-inseparable. Diane raised Joyce on the South Side in a home where love was central, and hugs and kisses abundant.

Joyce took that simple model and applied it to her own children.

"I was always hugging and kissing on my boys," Joyce said. "What my mom always taught me and what I believe is that kids need to know that somebody loves them unconditionally."

At La Rabida, Joyce walked through the doorway and into Abraham's room. The 14-year-old is in a wheelchair, his movements severely limited by cerebral palsy. His face lit up the moment he saw her. She started to dance, making short swaying moves with both fists in front of her and singing Abraham's favorite Mickey Mouse song: "Hot dog, hot dog, hot diggedy dog!"

"Is our show on?" Joyce asked, looking up at the television.

Abraham did his best to mimic her dance moves.

Joyce recalled that when she first started at the hospital, there was a girl who couldn't move — her face seemed locked in a distant stare. Every time Joyce came to visit the girl, she said, "Let me see your pretty smile." And then one day the girl smiled.

"That's when I knew," Joyce said. "I knew even in that situation, these kids hear me. They know I'm here, and they need that love."

Once Joyce befriended an intellectually disabled girl who had lost her sight. The two couldn't understand each other, yet they'd sit for hours having conversations, finding pleasure in each other's company. Her mother has had similar experiences, drawing kids out with witty banter and a little playfulness.

"When I'm not arguing with the kids, I'm arguing with her," Diane said, pointing to her daughter, who gives back as well as she takes. "One way or the other, somebody's going to get a conversation aroundhere!"

Joyce and Diane have been coming to La Rabida long enough now that they see time pass with the hospital's children as swiftly as it did with their own.

"I've had so many buddies here," Joyce said. "Sometimes you see them from when they're babies to when they're starting to grow up. You look up and they're gone."

In Abraham's room, Joyce let the teen dig through a backpack filled with toys and books that she carries on her rounds. He struggles to grasp objects, so she gently helped him unload everything into his lap, then guided his hand as he started putting the toys back in the bag.

"Can you get it in? Boom! Slam dunk! Good job, Abraham."

The boy was happy, and Joyce was in her element. A mother, through and through.

Copyright 2013- American Society of Registered Nurses (ASRN.ORG)-All Rights Reserved


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Editor-in Chief:
Kirsten Nicole

Editorial Staff:
Kirsten Nicole
Stan Kenyon
Robyn Bowman
Kimberly McNabb
Lisa Gordon
Stephanie Robinson

Kirsten Nicole
Stan Kenyon
Liz Di Bernardo
Cris Lobato
Elisa Howard
Susan Cramer