Art & Poetry in Medicine
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Life // Death

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

Eunice Stallman, MD Eunice Stallman, MD (3 Posts)

Resident Physician Contributing Author

University of Washington School of Medicine

Eunice Stallman, MD completed her BS in neurobiology at the University of Washington, her medical degree at The Ohio State University College of Medicine, and is currently a fourth-year psychiatry resident at the University of Washington-Idaho Advanced Clinician Track. Her interests lie in advocacy and wellness for residents, maternal mental health, and gender equality. She spends much of her non-work time exploring beautiful Boise with her husband and three young children, ages one, three, and five.