A flicker on the screen of the heartbeat, the first glimpse of my baby, I cry at the possibility of new life // An empty ultrasound, no heartbeat, a young mom cries; discovery of death amidst life.
The highly anticipated 20-week ultrasound, it’s a boy! Ten fingers, ten toes // Wails from the ultrasound room — “There is no brain”, the radiologist comes in to say. “Anencephaly.” D&C, pieces of baby suctioned out; fingers, toes.
My belly rounded out, legs swollen, “any day now” I beam, the elephant in the room // Their only daughter died in childbirth, their granddaughter too; hate shooting from their eyes — if looks could kill…
Contractions getting closer and closer, walking into L&D, napping after the epidural, relief // Emergent C-section, the tearing of fascia, we’ve got two minutes tops, hurry, hurry; do we save baby or mom?
The birth of new life, crying, pink baby. My son is here! Happy birthday says the nurse // Limp, lifeless, blue, “call the NICU,” screams the nurse. The screams … the silence.
The smell of his perfectly round head, his soft hair tickling my nose, intoxicating // The twins born joined by the head, hospital day 352, awaiting surgery. “The million-dollar patients, don’t mess it up,” the attending says.
Watching his eyes flutter in his sleep, a soft coo, a sleep smile, what is he dreaming about? // He rolled into the headboard and suffocated. His parents left him alone on the bed while they went to a party … they’re still drunk in the ED, oblivious.
I’m in love, I’m in love, I’m in love // The spiral fracture of a non-walking child, covered in blue and purple.
A cry from the crib heard through my baby monitor. He’s standing! He’s standing! // He stood in the crib in soiled diapers for 12 hours. “I tried to kill myself while I was supposed to watch him, my wife found me unconscious. I’m going to take more pills next time…” he said with a smile.
The birthday candle, beautiful flickering fire // I smelled him before I saw him, his tiny body charred, blackened, a house fire; they couldn’t save him.
Feet thump thumping on the hardwood floor, dancing, stomping, “thumpity thump thump,” we laughed // A tragic accident, the toddler caught under the lawn mower, his dad didn’t know and kept mowing, mangled legs, amputated feet; the guilt.
Vibrant kids, their squeals of joy as they swim with grandma // Their lifeless bodies in the PICU, so many of them, so many drowned; Bathtubs, pools, hot tubs…
Rushing home after rounds, stopping by the gift shop to buy them helium balloons to celebrate the end of my night float! // His parents have never visited him in the hospital before; they came yesterday to get their free meal pass from the nurse and went to the cafeteria instead — can I hate someone I don’t know?
A million times dancing together to Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off in the van while road-tripping, the three of them laughing from their car seats // God, they must have shaken him a million times to get that amount of brain damage, “irreversible” the neurosurgeon says.
My heart is filled with life … I am so lucky // My brain is filled with the ghosts of patients haunting me; I am preoccupied with suffering, death, the anxiety swirling and swirling of what could, what might, what has, any moment … the curse of knowing luck can disappear into tragedy.
Eunice, mama of three, wife, daughter, sister, friend // Dr. Stallman