Eleven-year-old Abby sat nervously in the emergency department, her eyes darting around the room as she clutched Patches, her beloved stuffed sheep. Her guardian sat beside her, anxiety etched on her face as she explained the situation to me. Abby had been diagnosed with depression at the tender age of nine after suffering years of abuse and neglect at the hands of her biological parents.
A few months ago, a loving foster family took Abby in, providing her with the safety and security she desperately needed. But Abby’s emotional scars ran deep – so much so that she began expressing thoughts of wanting to die. Yesterday, she had been caught searching ways to end her life on a school computer. Later that evening, her guardian discovered a belt ominously wrapped around a bedpost.
As I spoke with Abby, she seemed hesitant to share her feelings, but we soon found common ground in our love for Taylor Swift. Abby’s eyes lit up as she talked about how much she wished she could see Taylor in concert, and how Fearless was her favorite album. She shyly admitted to sometimes having thoughts of killing herself but stressed that she didn’t feel that way right now.
The overwhelming sadness I felt for Abby was difficult to bear. It seemed so unjust that someone so young had experienced such hurt and despair. Needing to offer even the smallest of comforts, I retrieved a bag of Goldfish crackers from our snack storage and presented it to Abby. The brilliant smile that graced her face at that moment would stay etched in my memory for a long time to come.
That night, Abby was voluntarily admitted to an inpatient psychiatric hospital. I spoke at length with the attending physician there, and we both silently acknowledged the arduous journey ahead for Abby. However, we also shared a glimmer of hope – hope that Abby would find the strength to heal from her past and embrace a brighter future.
Before my shift ended, I decided to visit Abby and her guardian in their hospital room. Her guardian had fallen asleep in a chair, weary from the day’s events, while Abby lay curled up with Patches in the hospital bed. As a parting gift, I left another bag of Goldfish crackers by her hand, whispering a quiet prayer for her before slipping out of the room.
Working in the ER is a potent reminder that there are many people in desperate need of help. Though the immediate care we provide can make an impact, the long-term outcome for our patients remains largely unknown. In these moments, we hold onto hope and compassion, trusting that our actions might spark a turnaround in lives like Abby’s.
As the days turned into weeks, I found myself thinking often of Abby. I hoped that she had gained the strength to walk the path towards recovery, and perhaps even find happiness in the simple joys of life – like the soft warmth of a stuffed sheep or the crunchy delight of a bag of Goldfish crackers. Abby’s story served as a poignant reminder of the difference we can make, even in the face of immense sadness and adversity.