Clinical, Featured, Pediatrics
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Grief, Unnoticed

They said to stop compressions. We all agreed. This baby had no life when she was born, and we had fought for twenty whole minutes with our arsenal of medicine to give her life. All the while knowing it would be the genesis of — what, exactly? What kind of life begins with broken ribs and six rounds of epinephrine?

I stopped compressions. My thumbs had been circulating what small amount of blood was in this tiny body. My two thumbs. Did they know this morning while crafting a text message that seven hours later they would sustain the heartbeat of another human? 

I stopped compressions. I stopped and looked at this baby girl and felt nothing. My own heart racing, then racing faster as the realization caught up to me in the physical way these things do — slowly and all at once. This life had ended — had it even started? — and I felt nothing. This monumental thing had happened to my two thumbs — my texting, orange peeling, pen-twirling thumbs — now given twenty minutes of their greatest role yet: sustaining a life.

I felt nothing. Others were crying. I was stone: cool and unmoved. A cavern of emotion with one thought echoing: What is wrong with me

I should have felt something. 

I should have. 

I didn’t.

Three months later, I awake in a cold sweat, my eyes flashing open to behold the dark room. I held my hands in front of my face until I could finally see them. A dream. The blood rushes past my ears, and my heartbeat slows. Just seconds ago, my hands were holding that tiny body again. Thumbs hovering above a helpless, hollow chest without rhythm — a chest without life. I held that baby and felt nothing. The emptiness of a chest that should pulsate, should breathe is haunting in its nothingness. It haunts me now. This time, alone in my room, there is no one to ask — are you alright? as the grief, previously unnoticed, comes screaming. 

Image source: Falling tube lights by danny howe on Unsplash.

Carly Schmidt, MD Carly Schmidt, MD (2 Posts)

Resident Physician Contributing Writer

Warren Alpert Medical School

Carly is a pediatrics resident in Providence, RI at Brown University's Hasbro Children's Hospital. She attended University of Michigan followed by Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. She uses writing as a way to process experiences in residency and hopes to encourage others to explore narrative medicine as a form of therapy. In her free time she enjoys hiking with her husband and rescue pup, reading true crime novels, and playing "punishingly intricate" board games.