I am rarely mistaken for George Clooney, and my job seldom resembles the TV show “ER.” The vast majority of what we do is, at least after a number of years, pretty routine. But every once in a while, life resembles art. A couple of months ago, on an otherwise steady but undramatic day, the nurse walked a 2 week old baby back from triage and asked for immediate help. The baby was blue, not breathing, and had no pulse. A team of folks – nurses, other doctors – swiftly descended on the room and began working. I directed one person to do CPR, others to try to get an IV and to give medications. After a minute or so we were able to get a pulse, but the initial signs weren’t great. The parents, who were in the room with us, asked if they should baptize the little girl, and they did. After almost an hour, we had stabilized her and sent her to the neonatal ICU. I went up and checked on her and her parents after my shift. While things were improved, it was all still quite tenuous.
This past weekend, the triage nurse came back and told me and one of the nurses that there was a family in the waiting room that wanted to talk with us. We went out to find the family of that little girl. They wanted to thank us for what we had done, bringing a delicious lunch for the whole staff. It was a touching gesture, as were the drawings from the girls siblings that said “Thank you for saving our sister’s life.” But the best thing was seeing the baby herself. She had spent a month in the ICU, but did well and went home. The last time we had seen her she was literally on death’s door; now she was a pink, chubby-cheeked, smiling 3 month old. As we exchanged thanks and hugs, all of us were a bit teary.
I happened to have a college senior interested in medical school shadowing me that day. As we were sitting down to enjoy the pizza and ravioli, I told him that this sort of thing doesn’t happen every day, or even every year. But, I said “This is what it’s all about. Don’t forget that.” It’s all about purpose – acting in the service of children and their families.
I also thought of our emphasis on “being here now.” When the team swung into action that day a few months earlier, each of us was there, fully present, doing what we needed to do. We were also there for the family, explaining what we were doing and what it meant even as we feverishly worked to save their baby. And when that family returned, intact, to bring us a meal, it reminded me that it could have been very different. Life is short, unpredictable, and very precious.