There you are in your father’s arms. He is practically running to keep up with the triage nurse. The nurse is walking quickly toward the room that we leave open for true emergencies and the sickest patients. Your father’s eyes are full of fear, and the nurse’s tone is worrisome.
I look down at you all snuggled up to your father’s chest. You are beautiful. So small and bright-eyed. You don’t recognize how hard your body is working, and you are just taking in all the sights and sounds around you as any baby would. The nurse takes you from your father’s arms, and she places you on the stretcher. I lean in and place my stethoscope on your chest. I’m sorry if it’s a bit cold. I lean in closer.
“Hey cutie, how are you?” I say, and I smile.
Your beautiful eyes look directly into mine, and you smile back. The nurses are buzzing around us. I look away from you for a second to talk to them. We need to gather up some things that we’ll need to make you better. When I look back, you smile again.
“I’m going to make you feel better,” I tell you. I say the same to you father, and he breathes a sigh of relief.
I’m sorry we have to put all these wires and stickers on you. I’m sorry about the mask and the pokes, but I’m going to make you feel better. I’ll be right here next to you until I make you better. You cry a little, but you also smile despite what is happening. I smile back and talk to you. You talk back. Cooing. You are beautiful.
We’ve been together for a while now. Are you feeling better? You are so much better! I too feel better. You are still smiling, cooing. You are such a happy baby. Your mommy is here now. She raced here as soon as your daddy called her. Would you like her to hold you? There is no better place to be than in Mommy’s arms. I have to step away for a minute. I have to make some phone calls to get you transferred to the PICU. I’ll be right over there, and I’ll be watching you every second.
This might take a bit longer than I had hoped. The PICU is full. It seems all you little cuties are keeping us doctors busy today. I’m working on it. You just hang in there. You’re doing a great job! Keep it up. I’m going to make a few more phone calls. I’ll be right over there, but I’ll be watching you closely as I have been since you were carried into my ER.
Oh, no, no, no. Wait. Hey, stop that. Why do you have that look? No, no, no. I lean in and say to you, “Hey cutie, I’m going to make you feel better.” I’m sorry I’m talking so loudly now.
No, no, no. Do not look at me like that. You are not allowed to have that look in your eyes. I know that look, and you cannot have that look. Do you see me? I’m right here, inches from your sweet face. I feel your breath on my face, do you feel mine? Do you see my eyes? Do you hear my voice?
“I’m going to make you feel better, sweet boy. I’m going to make you feel better.”
No, no, no. I do not like your color. You are still beautiful, but that color. I need to fix that. No, no, no. Your lungs, I need to fix them. I’m sorry sweet boy, but I’m going to have to put a tube into your lungs. You are tired. I’m going to make you feel better. One last look into those eyes. Sleep baby. Rest. I’m in. I feel better. Do you feel better? Don’t worry, I will breathe for you; rest sweet boy.
No, no, no. Talk to your heart sweet boy, tell it to be strong. No, no, no. What’s happening? What are you doing? I’m sorry sweet boy; I’ll need to squeeze your chest now. I’m sorry if it hurts. Your heart, I need to fix that. Be strong. I’m sorry it’s so loud in here. There are a lot of people that have come to help me. We are going to make you feel better. All of us. We are all here for you. But me, I am right here. Touching you, talking to you every moment. No, no, no. Please, sweet boy. I’ve tried everything. Be strong. Beat. Breathe. Please. Beat. Breathe. Please, sweet, beautiful boy.
It’s been an hour now sweet boy. I’ve been begging your heart to beat for an hour. I’ve been begging your lungs to breathe for an hour. Some are telling me it’s time. To call it. To call you. I can’t. Just a few more rounds. I told you I was going to make you feel better. I looked into those beautiful eyes and made you a promise. Please. Beat. Breathe.
Maybe this little probe will tell me that your beautiful little heart is moving beneath my hands and that I just can’t feel it. Maybe the monitors are wrong. Your heart is still. You are still sweet, beautiful boy. I’m so sorry. I told you that I was going to make you feel better. I looked into those bright, beautiful eyes while feeling your breath on my face and I told you that I was going to make you better. I’m so, so sorry. My heart is bleeding. I had to call out those awful words. The room was silent when I called it. Everyone was still. Having to say those words out loud took my breath away. I’ll remember that moment in time, that exact date, that exact minute. Forever.
That room. That awful room. I take a deep breath and close my eyes before I enter that room. My heart is oozing and threatening to explode. I open the door. Your lovely parents. They are sitting there in front of me holding hands. They look up at me with those eyes, your eyes. You have their eyes. Those words. Those awful words. “I’m so sorry. We did everything we could, but we could not save your sweet, beautiful boy.”
Those God awful words. Your mother fell to the floor and wrapped her arms around my legs. I nearly fell to the floor alongside her.
“Tell me you’re lying, please tell me you’re lying!” she screamed.
God, I wish I was. I sobbed uncontrollably. Your father cried too. He looked directly into me and said, “But you were just playing with him. He was smiling at you.”
Yes, you were. That smile. Those eyes. I’m so sorry. Everyone in the room is breaking. I brought them to you. Your mother held you in her arms, to her chest, near her heart almost begging yours to beat. I’m so sorry. I cried with them. My heart bled with theirs.
“Is there anything else I can say? Is there anything else I can explain? Do you have any other questions I can help answer?” I asked them.
Your mother looked at me with distant, empty eyes. Not your eyes anymore. She whispered sadly, “I just want you to give me my baby back.”
My heart paused. God, I wish I could. With every ounce of my being, I wish I could give that sweet, beautiful boy back to you. Instead, I give you me. You, your family, your beautiful boy, will have me. Every day. Every minute. You will have me. I am now yours. And his. Forever.
Free N. Hess is a pediatric emergency physician.
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