Cincinnati Children's Blog

PICU Nurse Channels Superhero Powers

PICU Nurse Channels Superhero Powers

AJ Prickel is not officially a superhero. But it’s easy to see how he could be mistaken for one.

AJ – who is an RN in our Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) – wears a superhero t-shirt for every shift. He has Superman (a personal favorite), Batman, Spiderman and Captain America all covered. Once, he even rigged his own Ironman shirt, complete with an LED light in the middle.

To AJ, superheroes personify the classic battle of good versus evil. He’s always appreciated what the fictional comic book characters come to represent: a person who has your back, who’s always looking out for you and will be there to save the day. He wants to be that person for his patients.

AJ wears his t-shirts proudly at bedside, where he and his colleagues partner with families as they face difficult, sometimes incredibly long medical battles.

AJ began his career at Cincinnati Children’s as a patient care assistant (PCA) in the Emergency Department. Now he works both night and day shifts as a registered nurse in the PICU. He provides care to patients ranging in age from infants to teenagers – each of them critically ill. The PICU is an intense place for families and for staff. But if AJ gets stressed, he never lets it show, because above all, he loves his job and he understands what’s at stake.

There is a strength that comes from the superhero shirts that AJ wears like a badge of honor, not only for himself, but for the patients and families he serves. The t-shirts help break the ice, ease tension and get a conversation started at times when talking can be tough. It often begins with moms and dads telling AJ about their child’s favorite superhero. Parents recognize the logos and make the connection. It’s a superficial common ground, at first, but it’s a place where both parties can start building a rapport.

Like a lot of young boys, AJ felt a connection to Superman growing up. His favorite thing to wear was a treasured blue t-shirt with the iconic red and yellow “S” printed front and center. The shirt was torn and ragged, but he’d wear it every day until it got so dirty and smelly that his mom had to convince him to peel it off, AJ says. When she could finally wash it, little AJ would sit on the dryer and wait for it to finish so he could put it right back on. Ask his coworkers and they’d say he brings the same determined attitude and boyish excitement into work to this day. It’s one of the ways he keeps himself motivated.

Ultimately, AJ can’t fly, he doesn’t have superhuman strength and he doesn’t have a movie, so he’d be the first to tell you he isn’t actually a superhero. The patients and families he cares for in the PICU, however, might argue with you on that point. AJ would argue, though, that the children who spend time in the beds and the family members that stay beside them at Cincinnati Children’s are the real superheroes.

We’re not going to argue with any of them – AJ is doing great things, along with so many other RNs across the medical center, and our patients really are incredible people. Every one of them!

So, if you happen to see a nurse in a Superman shirt around the hospital, know that we don’t have any phone booths on campus, so it must be AJ: a person who has your back, who’s always looking out for you and will be there to save the day.

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