When I worked in the Pastoral Care Department of a hospital that was designated a Level I Trauma Center (See: “We Are Not a Number“), my duties were varied – praying with a patient right before their surgery, comforting a family waiting in the ER for their family member, rushing to any room that was involved in a Code, contacting family members for any patient who was brought in by Medevac Helicopter, or even sitting with anyone alone in the ER, looking scared and in pain. That last description was just about everyone.
In the rare event that I had a chance to try for some rest in the on-call room, I would prop my feet up and close my eyes until the beeping of my pager broke into my reverie. Either that, or the whirring sound of the helicopter blades as the Medevac neared its landing pad on the roof. Then it would be off the bed, out the door, racing to the trauma bays. “ETA – 10 minutes.” Just enough time to arrive at the ER, get suited up, ready for whomever was brought in.
Sometimes it was a motor vehicle accident or an ATV rider without a helmet vs. a tree, a drunk driver crashing into a building, a lineman electrocuted by live wires, a lonely person who jumped from a bridge or took too many pills, someone rescued from a burning house or a factory explosion. All sorts of traumas passed through the doors.
Staff included ER doctors, nurses, chaplains, phlebotomists, x-ray techs, security guards, physician’s assistants – all standing in their appointed spot in the small area that included two fully equipped trauma bays, waiting for the flight nurses or EMTs to arrive with their patient. I never saw anyone or anything that was unprofessional; the focus was always on each arriving patient and doing whatever possible to save their lives. The staff moved as a team with quiet precision.
On a particularly busy night, our latest arrivals were a young mother and her child from a motor vehicle accident; her husband and their second child were taken to another hospital near-by. Thankfully, the child escaped with minor abrasions and a concussion, and was already in a bed in pediatrics. The mother took more time to stabilize with some broken ribs, a fractured wrist, abrasions and contusions. Following our treatment, she was whisked off for a C-T scan.
Business as usual followed each patient – housekeeping cleaned the area, doctors signed off on computers, security locked up valuables and technicians moved aside their portable x-ray machines.
Suddenly the double doors from inside the ER swung open and the young mother was brought back in. Puzzled, we looked to the tech who wheeled her past us into the surgical suite adjacent to the bays. This operating room was normally used for those patients with injuries severe enough that there wasn’t enough time to make it to a regular OR.
Knowing she didn’t need surgery, someone asked what was wrong.
“This seems to be the only private area available. The other hospital notified us that the husband will be okay, but we need to tell her that her other child died.”
The double doors to the OR shut with a quiet whoosh. Through the window I could see the doctor take the mother’s hand as he leaned closer. Two nurses stood at the other side of the bed. With that terrible news delivered in the gentlest and kindest of ways – the kind of news from which you never recover – we heard a cry released from the depths of her being, the OR suite unable to contain the sounds of her grief.
It pierced our ears and our hearts. Then, total silence. Not one sound came from any of us – and there were at least 20 staff present – as we froze in place. For us, nothing else existed but the mother’s agonized cry. It tore into us, demanding our respect and mindful attention.
In that terrible moment, it seemed as if the cries of all parents who ever lost a child (the worst loss) echoed through time…through generations…and reverberated off the walls of this very place.
A doctor stood in his scrubs, head thrown back with eyes closed, fists at his sides. Two nurses held each other in a tight embrace; the woman from housekeeping held her mop in mid stride; a resident’s hand stood motionless above a keyboard, typing stopped in mid-sentence; a security guard turned toward the wall.
My eyes met the doctor’s, whose mirrored the pain. In a single movement, my back slid down the wall and I held my knees in my arms, the tableau frozen with her raw grief.
After what seemed like forever, but could only have been a minute, a voice overhead announcing the ETA of another trauma snapped us out of our absorption. The area became a buzz of activity as we picked up where we had left off, grateful for the respite offered by much-needed focus, occupied with our assigned tasks.
We could push all of this aside, but the mother could not. We could hug our own children that night, or call to remind them of our love, but the mother could only do that with one child, rather than two.
Once again, as medical professionals we were reminded that regardless of our technology or expertise or willingness to switch places in order to keep children from harm, all stories do not have happy endings. Once again, there was no good answer for the question on everyone’s lips – “Why?” It was beyond our human understanding. And it hurt. It hurt terribly.
But for a brief moment, in that hospital, there were no differences in skin color or language, in gender or faith tradition, in economic status or profession, in looks or bank account. We were joined through threads of pain and compassion, of despair and hope…and of love.
We were together. Interconnected.
Although no one moved, you could almost feel our arms reaching out to the young mother in her grief, comforting her, reassuring her. And if you looked closely enough, you could almost see the faint outline of a little girl kissing her mother’s cheek good-bye…
Be well, my child. Play and laugh and sing. Your family loves you and will always remember you. And even though we never met you, all of us with your mother that night love you and remember you as well. In the too-short time you lived, you mattered to so very many of us.
From deep in our hearts, we send you our eternal blessings.
Circles of Grace and Compassion. A Circle of Love.
Such a truth Theresa, regardless of our station in life. That sound of pain can only be felt in one place, by any who hear it. That is our humanity. And a reminder that even in the harshness of this world, we can feel it, even when we try to cover it in our own pain. Thank you for sharing, it is an incredible job that you do, but it can come with a price. Balance, like your retreat, so that you may be that solace in their time of need. You have my utmost respect and love for the strength and support you are to others, while they are feeling the anguish of such a loss. Namaste
And in our humanity, we find our Self and hope for the future in such dire times. Blessings to you, Mark, as I sit in the airport waiting to return from my retreat.
Yes we do! I do hope a very giving soul has found that rest and peace within at the retreat. Mind you, sitting in airports has it’s place. Reflecting on that journey at the retreat. Plus the energy at this time has seriously been pushing us out of our comfort zones and asking us to make decisions for our future. May yours be one of understanding, of that path. Love and light to you also. Mark
Bless all of the people that strive to save lives. I have had the loss of children through miscarriage and still born death. I am now 71 and still remember each and every one. The kindness of the hospital staff that cared for me will always be remembered. Pieces of my heart are gone forever. I found writing my feelings helped me to honor my children and I was able to keep them with me always.
By: Patricia Salamone
Littlest angel ever so near,
my heart is weeping, can you hear.
I held you in my arms
and felt your breath upon my cheek,
I gently kissed your face you were just so weak.
Your little hand held mine,
your face was so divine,
I looked into your eyes,
you looked back into mine.
As your life ebbed away and the night
turned to day I held you close to me,
you reached your tiny hand up and
touched me with a sigh, you smiled
a little smile for me as if to say goodbye.
Littlest angel ever so near
my heart is weeping, can you hear
Dearest Patricia: I am so very sorry for your losses; no one should have to lose a child, let alone more than one. My blessings to you and them, for always… Theresa
Life indeed goes on Theresa.
Far too quickly, it seems…
i remember this post – it still brings tears to my eyes.
Blessings to you…
A powerful and enlightening story of that which most of us are not aware. You all are truly champions of life. At our worst moments, you have to be at your best. For that we are most greatful for God’s healing touch through such concerned and loving hands. Angels of mercy your all are. I’m honored to know a few: you being one.
Wounded healers, Alan. We are legion…
My heart hurts after reading your very beautifully crafted telling of this story…I could feel the connection you all had in that moment. ❤
Thank you, Lorrie. Sacred ground…
There is a reason, even as an adult, I’ve held on as long as I have. I cannot have my mother go through the anguish of losing one of her (even adult) children. I’ve seen, first-hand the experience shared in this story. Whoever, however we find ways to save lives and love, it gets done. And to those who are drawn into others grieving, simply as part of their chosen work, yes, the Universe (including us) are grateful.
Caregivers are certainly special people; it is a privilege to work with them. Thank you for your thoughts, Eric.