Year in Medical School:
Current resident. Wake Forest School of Medicine, Class of 2013
Where you grew up:
University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill
God put rainbows in the clouds so that each of us - in the dreariest and most dreaded moments - can see a possibility of hope. Be a rainbow in someone else's cloud - Maya Angelou
He was 14 years old. Sitting on the hospital bed in the OR holding room, he tried to hide his nervousness. He reminded me so much of my little brother. I shoot back in time to my brother and sister
I did my first bone marrow biopsy on him. I was so excited about getting to actually take part in doing the procedure. For a moment, I forgot that I was using a large needle on a child. I was shoving this needle into his hip bone to remove the tender inner marrow to analyze for cancer. I forgot this 14 year old boy had a large mass in his abdomen where we had just taken biopsies. I forgot his parents were outside anxiously awaiting to hear news of their son and how his surgery went. I forgot and purely enjoyed the wonder and excitement of experiencing a new procedure, seeing a surgery I had never seen before. I later felt ashamed, guilty for feeling wonder, awe, excitement about being a part of these procedures, new to me. I sometimes even blamed myself for what happened because I had been so inquisitive and present during the surgery.
He just stood up to go to the bathroom on post-op day two and collapsed. That was it. I came in Wednesday morning, what was supposed to be my “day off” after rounds, and found out he stood up and collapsed. In the PICU, tubes everywhere: intubated, bilateral chest tubes, his port, IVs, ECMO lines in his groin. CT scan showed a brain that looked like oatmeal in the bowl of his skull: homogenous, ventricles squished out of existence by his brain trying to force itself through the foramen magnum. “The great hole”, both providing life through connecting brain to body and the guillotine of death when the brain swells and cuts off the blood supply to the brainstem.
But that morning, all I could think was, f their backs (and have) if someone else needed them, always surrounded by groups of friends, charismatic, pranksters. I grew to love this family in the 24 hours I spent vigilantly watching over their son, brother, grandson, friend.
I cried when his oldest brother finally arrived after receiving the news while at his wrestling tournament in Virginia Beach. I felt for him because I simply could not imagine having to do the same if it were my brother in the room. I could not fathom the deep loss I would feel if something ever happened to my brother or sister. That day, I watched endless youth group members, friends, football teammates come in, unable to comprehend that the boy who was the epitome of life was gone. I had several come up to me and ask if he was really gone, never to come back; I fumbled through explaining that the machines surrounding their friend were all that were producing the signs of life present on his monitor. I did not know how to best explain it in a way that showed I was deeply saddened by the information I was telling them. I called my own brother and sister to tell them I loved them. I sat. I watched. I absorbed. I went home late.
I came back Thursday. Rounds. Early case. Stopped by to see him. Still with all his tubes, cords and cables. We were welcomed as part of the family during the final prayer. We watched them leave their child’s fate to God. We saw everything stop. The PICU attending turned off the monitor screen. The nurses began to slowly remove each tube, line and cord from his body. He was cleaned again for the last time by our team. When all was done, there he lay, looking like the boy I had met two days ago whose similarity to my own little brother struck me to the core. There he was peaceful, serene, separate from our world. We left the room. Page from the OR. We left his family, went back to ours.
One year later, another patient, this time a 10 year old boy with a massive hemorrhagic stroke. It was my first time back in the PICU since the loss of my boy. I wanted to cry, run away, not enter in the first place. I could see him still there, felt like his family would come streaming in at any minute. But it was a different time, different patient, different room. I was afraid to even mention the pain I felt being back in that space.
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