I’m a pediatrician and have been practicing for 29 years. I currently own a solo practice.
Here is a story I wrote years after a patient encounter during my residency in 1993. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was an experience that would shape my career in general pediatrics.
Marcus is the worst case of child abuse I’ve seen to date. He’s two years old. His mom’s boyfriend dips his privates in boiling water when he won’t go poop in the potty. He must have his knees bent and drawn close to his chest because the parts that are burned are the backs of his thighs, and his buttocks, and his genitalia.
He was brought into the pediatric emergency clinic at 6:15 a.m. on a wet spring morning in 1993, the last 45 minutes of my 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift, the next to the last rotation of my third and final year of residency, two long years before attending physicians are made to stay in house overnight with the pediatric residents.
Andre, a middle-aged janitor, clocks out somewhere in downtown Atlanta. His night shift is over. He wants to visit his girlfriend. Andre’s girlfriend is Marcus’ grandmother. Everyone in her apartment is passed out when Andre arrives. They all had a big party. Andre hears crying. He walks into a bedroom and finds a little boy on his stomach, alone on a bed, his knees drawn to his chest, his butt in the air. Marcus.
“He ain’t my blood, he ain’t my blood, but I says to myself, ‘This ain’t right. I know I gots to bring him to The Gradys.’ I know this ain’t right,” Andre’s mantra as he gingerly hands Marcus to me.
I have goosebumps. I always have goosebumps at the end of a night shift.
I am pregnant, nauseous, exhausted. Horrified.
“I know who did it: His mama’s boyfriend. He don’t like kids.”
Andre twists a gray hat in his hand, touches his own heart, and twists the hat. I feel him looking at me. I tend to this toddler with black, black skin as smooth as velvet, on arms and chest and back and face˜and red, raw beef over his privates and thighs. The nurses stare.
Tylenol 3? No, morphine. What’s the dose of morphine? I wrap his private parts with silvadene and gauze, his little penis, his thighs, his buttocks, crying silently to myself, singing to him. Help me, Jesus. He is Jesus.
He screams, the shrillest screech of pain I have heard to this day, the cry of neglect and ignorance, the cry of despair. Morphine, morphine, how can we get IV access? Help me. My relief. The day shift is here. I don’t care that you are an ass, just help me here, please.
And now he is silvadened, he is bandaged, he is sedated, he sleeps. Thank God.
And Andre. He ain’t my blood. The hero.
Elizabeth M. LeDuc is a pediatrician.
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