This week was…tough, to say the least. I am emotionally drained. As an Emergency Physician, there is no greater terror than a truly sick child coming into your Emergency Department. And no greater disheartenment than not being able to make those kids better. Today’s blog post is an ode to the parents of those children- the ones who don’t make it. I keep every single one of their faces in my memory as motivation to get better, and to know more, and, for the cases where all of that is not enough, to never lose my empathy.
To the Parents-
I’m sitting across from you in the “Family Room” right now. I hesitate to open my mouth because of the sheer grief that washes over your face when I do. The pain is so palpable it’s hard for me to finish sentences. The cold metal of the chair rail is the only thing keeping my senses from going completely numb. As I watch you look at me expectantly, I can hear your silent prayers that somehow I am going to deliver words that will change what you already know. Before I start I want you know to know, sincerely, that I am here for you. But that doesn’t matter at all right now. What promise could my presence hold if I can’t tell you that your child is here too? Today, the Universe and all of us within it have let you down. These words will not come easily. I am so, so sorry.
You will never forget the last thing that you said to your child. You will never forget how they smelled or what their embrace felt like after a long day. And I, this stranger in this white coat that I only wear when I have to deliver news like this, will never know those things. How dare I tell you that your child is no longer of this Earth?
You blame the careless driver who hit them in the street. You blame the person who let out the gunshot that wasn’t even meant for them. You blame the aunt who should have been watching more closely. You blame medicine for not having a solution. You blame me because I could not bring them back to us. You blame yourself, as if some parental intuition should have been able to keep them away from that very spot at that very time.
I wish I could say something, anything, to help sew your heart and your world back together. Know that, as unfit as I feel to sit here with you, I will. Or I will leave. I will do anything that you need in order to obtain some semblance of normalcy. This moment has so little to do with me it’s almost comical. This is your story and all I can do is trip over awkwardly phrased apologies. Please understand that we did EVERY. SINGLE. THING. we could do when your child came in. And that we kept doing it for far too long after we knew it was a futile effort. We did it because we could see the love that went into creating and nurturing those little fingertips and that little nose and those little kneecaps. It was just too late. And please know that, when we finally did call off the efforts, it was only to stop adding more tubes and needles to a sacred body that could no longer use them. Nobody in that room actually wanted the resuscitation to end. I held your child’s hand and prayed when we spoke those dreaded words and the room fell silent– they were not alone.
I will not look you in the eyes and tell you that they’re in a better place. Far be it from me to try to console you with meaningless sayings in a moment like this. Truthfully, the best place they could be is alive, laughing, in your arms- a reality I cannot give you. All that I can offer is what I truly believe. I truly believe that they are in a different place, and that somebody, somewhere, needed your child today. I wish I could explain why or where. I know you would give anything for that information. But right now, all you have is me. In front of you. With this underused white coat and these woefully inadequate words. For that, I am so, so sorry.