[Today we have a guest post from Uncle L on a topic about which he feels strongly. I find this piece wonderfully written and am pleased to share it, especially if it saves even one life. ]
No more dead babies.
I have had the most hideous experience of my life, albeit second hand.
My wife is an emergency room nurse in a research/teaching hospital that has the only Level I Trauma Center within 150 miles.
In case you’re not interested in reading the whole Wikipedia link, the staff at a Level I Trauma Center can make your steak dinner go “moo” again unless you ordered it well done. It’s a point of pride that if you’re alive when you come in their door, odds are good you’re going to be alive when you go out of it. They’re really, really good at what they do, and they have enormous resources to call upon. They’ve got the machine that goes “ping.” They’ve got the machine that goes “puh-whump.” (Actually, they’ve got about eight of those.) They’ve got machines that go buzz, fwee, and even “wham.” (That one sucks.) And medicine. Good Lord! They’ve got chemicals that can make you throw stuff up, or keep it down. They can make you poop on demand or not poop for a week. There’s stuff that can make a charging rhino take a nap right now or keep him awake until he gets bored.
What they cannot do, is raise the dead.
Not too terribly long ago, my wife and I went to a medieval re-enactment as part-time parents to a beautiful, charming four month old baby girl. WCB was utterly delightful. She laughed, she played, and she drooled on everything. She charmed everybody she met and is clearly going to be a gorgeous genius when she grows up. The good news is that WCB is still brilliant, gorgeous, delightful, and drooling on everything. The bad news follows.
After ten days of bonding with healthy, active, brilliant, beautiful WCB, my wife went home to her job in the Emergency Department of a Level I Trauma Center. I stayed at the re-enactment. About thirty hours later, I checked my messages and discovered that my cell phone had gone berserk. A half-dozen messages from the wife asking if WCB was ok. I’d also had three missed voice calls. Before I could check messages, the phone rang again. It was the wife, and she was almost hysterical. (Emergency Nurses are never hysterical. This was bad.)
“Tell me the baby’s ok.”
“All right. The baby’s ok. She’s outside, with her mother, currently covering a blanket with drool. What’s wrong?”
“We had a baby die today.”
It had been a normal shift with all of its normal crises. College students with alcohol poisoning, chainsaws operated without adequate training or safety equipment, and, of course, jet-ski’s operated without helmets leading to unnecessary brain damage due to collision. Then they got word that the ambulance crew was bringing in a four year old boy who was unresponsive and cyanotic. The well-oiled machine sprang into action, and my wife’s team drew the patient.
When the doors from the ambulance bay flew open, it was clear that something was wrong. The EMT’s looked grim. And the bundle on the gurney was too small. Somebody had made an error in translating the data somewhere. This child was not four years old, he was four months old. Later checking of the records would reveal that he was exactly one day older than WCB. He was beautiful, well-formed, and came from a loving family. He’d clearly been well-nourished, well taken care of, and was developing normally.
But his mother had been breast-feeding for four months. And the father was trying to give her a break. He had taken the infant for the afternoon and, in lying down for a nap, rolled over onto the baby in his sleep, and suffocated him.
The team did everything. There was no thought of sparing expense or saving resources. They poked, they prodded. They medicated, they “pu-whumped” and they “pinged.” Many of them are parents, and this is the ultimate nightmare. It’s beyond imagining.
But he was just gone. He’d been wrapped in a blanket, so he was still warm. But he was gone. And there was no bringing him back.
The Chief Resident had the hard job. He had to go out into the family waiting area and tell the loving father that he had killed his child. There was no way around it. He couldn’t make the cause of death anything other than an accidental smothering.
My wife volunteered for the second hardest job. She gave him his last bath. She took all of the needles that had come too late out. She washed off the adhesives that had failed to hold him to life, and dressed him back in his little onesie. Then she wrapped him up.
Did you know that they don’t make body bags for infants? Infants have to be cared for in the old way. With a winding sheet. Some folks call them a shroud. Her collegues were going to tie up the little bundle to keep the winding sheet from coming off, and the stress made her a little sharp with them. “He’s a child, not a delivery package.” She tucked the winding sheet in, and picked him in her own two hands. No gurney. No utility tray. Her hands. She tucked the paperwork in her pocked and walked him downstairs herself.
He was still warm. She carried him on her shoulder, like his parents had that morning, and patted his little back down the elevator and all the way down that long, dimly lit corridor. It’s very quiet down there. No one goes there unless they work there, or have specific business there. She stroked his head through the winding sheet and told him that everything was going to be ok. She got the paperwork to the morgue technician, and gently placed him on the stainless steel drawer where last of the heat from his body would eventually bleed out.
I think that’s the only time my wife has ever lied to a child. Because it’s not going to be okay. Nothing is going to ever be ok again. Somewhere there is a mother who is going to have to forgive her husband for killing her child if she is to keep her family together. There is a father who will forever live with the fact that, accident or not, he made the choices that killed his child. The doctor who was unable to report anything other than the truth: in an accidental smothering, a loving parent killed his baby boy. The rest of the trauma team, who are not accustomed to losing the important fights, will live forever with their failure.
That sounds harsh, doesn’t it? I don’t think they failed, but they do. Emergency Medical personnel are kind of funny. They look like they are made of tungsten carbide, or spring steel. When you go there, they are brisk and efficient. They smile at you as they work. They bring devices, supplies, and equipment and attach them to you with great confidence. They tell you they’ve seen worse, and they probably have. All of that is for the purpose of convincing you that they can fix anything. Because if you believe you are going to be ok, you are far more likely to have a positive outcome than if you think you aren’t going to make it. Underneath that, they’re running. They’re angry or scared, depending on the circumstances. They may all be adrenaline addicts, but they could fill that with bungee-jumping or motocross racing if they wanted to. They chose this line of work because they want to help people. And they have ended up where their day job is nothing less than hand-to-hand combat with the Angel of Death himself. And they don’t like to lose.
And then there’s me, who has to hold a sad and angry lady in the night. Please do not make my wife carry any more very, very small bundles down that long, dim hallway.
[Note #1: Just since March 2008, Auntie’s ER has had *another* accidental smothering by a loving, co-sleeping father. Another team drew that child – so she didn’t have to carry that one. But their opinions on co-sleeping with infants in the same bed as adults are cemented. ]
[Note #2: At 9 months, WCB still often co-sleeps with her mom in the “little bed” for part of the night , and I am very clear on all the arguments/reasons for and against this practice. We are working VERY hard to cease doing so, in part because of Auntie and Uncle L’s experiences. WCB has never co-slept in the big bed with either dad, however. And I think we’ve been very lucky.]