Thursday, October 23, 2008

Life and death . . .

Yeah, so as much as this particular job stinks, my job in general is pretty cool. I mean, I save babies. How much more noble can you get than that really? Not to toot my own horn or anything. . . Anyway, in the past I have definitely had some humbling experiences and, don't get me wrong, I do comprehend the weight of my authority and position in the NICU and in the delivery room. And I do have a healthy dose of "scared" in me. But lately I've gotten quite used to (and jaded by) the boring, mind-numbing monotony that is a tiny Level 2 NICU, not to mention the newborn nursery. :: insert dramatic groan here :: Then last week happened. I'm not going to go into too many details, well, because legally I can't. But let's just say I had a wake-up call. The night started out with a baby that was having a few minor problems . . . and by the end of my shift 14 hours later, those problems had turned life-altering. For the baby, for its family and for me. This baby had suffered a stroke.

Let me first say that there was nothing I did that caused this and there was nothing I could have done to prevent it, nor did I do anything that made it worse in any way. I suppose the most I could have done was recognize it sooner, but again that would not have improved this child's outcome. That said . . . it took me hours of research and crying and speaking with my attending physician to be absolutely certain of all this. You see, it doesn't really matter that there was technically nothing I could have done, the weight of my guilt was staggering. By the end of the night when I realized what was happening, all I could think is "Ohmigod, what did I do?"

Because I'm so new to this, I was absolutely convinced that I had done something wrong, somewhere along the line. I felt stupid and incompetent and it was completely unnerving to think that I could have missed something while caring for this baby. And I was absolutely I was convinced I had. I was devastated and I couldn't stop thinking about this child. Replaying the night over and over in my head. I thought of a million little things that I could have done differently, only to realize that hindsight was 20/20. There was no way I could have known. Again, it didn't matter. I cried all the way home. I cried all day long. I didn't sleep and I researched his condition all afternoon. It was an extraordinary feeling to feel absolutely responsible for another human's life. It was awful. It made me never want to be in that position ever again.

I get a huge rush from "saving" babies. From resuscitating them at a delivery, from seeing the things I do make a baby better, from reassuring and encouraging timid parents. It's a huge thrill and an absolute honor to be a part of it all. But on that day I wanted absolutely no part of it. Ever. Again. Because, for the first time, I was forced to wonder if instead of helping, I hurt someone. Not hurt as in may be in the NICU a couple more days or in some other way where the baby will ultimately be fine. But hurt as in may never walk, never talk, never play like normal a child. Hurt as in a mother and father grieving over the loss of their perfect child. The weight of that was unbearable.

It took several days for me to come to grips with this. To process it and let go of my guilt. It took seeing the baby slowly get better and hearing from someone with 30 years of experience that this particular case had him "scratching his head too." But for about 24 hours there, I wanted no part of my job. The weight of it felt like it was crushing me. The idea of ever making a "mistake" that could hurt a baby like that was too daunting to face. But slowly I realized that, just like the good things, that is what comes with the territory. You can't help people without risking hurting them. You can't always save every patient. And you can't always be perfect. I don't want to be human at my job, it's too scary. But, unfortunately, that's something about myself I can't change. The best I can do is learn from the scary times and the mistakes and never make the same ones twice. And pray that God is with me in everything I do, especially at that place. At was so scary to go back to work, but in the end I had to believe that I have it in me to do so much more good in my career. I want to learn and to be better and to save more lives, God willing. I want to believe that I can.


I'm only pretty sure that I can't take anymore
Before you take a swing
I wonder what are we fighting for
When I say out loud
I want to get out of this
I wonder is there anything
I'm going to miss
I wonder how it's going to be
- Third Eye Blind, "How's It Going To Be"

1 comment:

  1. When I was reading this entry, I felt like I could have written it myself. As a new teacher, I am constantly wondering if I could have done better at something, although not nearly as life-altering as what you've described. But you're absolutely right, hindsight is 20/20!