I went to visit a patient after class this afternoon and found out she had passed away. This would have been my eighth visit since I left her to move on to my next rotation. She had been in the first few months of her life when we met, she slipped away on her 96th day. She never saw my face, never looked in my eyes, never would have known how many people cared for her.
I won’t use her name out of respect, but know that she was beautiful. As was her family. A family that wanted her so dearly, and yearned so deeply for her to fight. And fight she did, even with ‘palliation’ hovering in the air, dancing in whispers and wandering through the minds of those who were caring for her. One day I left expecting that I wouldn’t see her again, the next morning I arrived to find her laying calmly in her cot. Miniature tubes twisting their way from beeping machines to a little face that led to a tiny chest, which rose and then fell, gracefully. I was so thankful that day, I wanted her to keep fighting, wanted her to show me the worth in holding out hope.
I don’t know the circumstances of her death, in many ways it may be better that I don’t. But the day I heard of her passing was the day after her funeral, and how I would have liked to have said goodbye. I can’t know how her mum and dad are coping, I haven’t had the chance to say thanks to them. I’d like to say thanks for letting me into their world at a time of such hardship. I feel like I had been one of the team, keeping track of the details of her care, presenting her case each day in the ward round. Moreover, I feel like I was granted access to the heart and soul of the situation, as though each emotion embedded itself in me. Her mother and I spoke often at the bedside, we talked about their young lady, joked about the strain she would place on them by the time she hit her teenage years. She was ‘moody, and demanding’ I think we said. I wish I could remember more of those talks, they would remind me of the girl she could have been.
My wife and I are awaiting the birth of our first baby. I think that’s part of this for me. A taste of reality, though likely a twisted one. I’ve written about these bites of reality before but in that case the baby didn’t make it safely from the womb. This felt different, this baby had taken those early breaths, had made it through those early days. And yet she wasn’t to make it after all, she was too early to join the world. Her little lungs, and her little heart weren’t quite ready, and in spite of her spirit these vital organs soon crumbled under the expectations we were bearing for her.
Gestation is dangerous, birth appears the same. A baby born as early as her will always face a gamble, and I think her parents knew this. They were likely more realistic than I was, and so I shed a tear when I told my wife what had happened. It was hard to face the reality that I missed the news and missed the chance to see her off. I hope I get to speak to her mum and dad at some point. I want them to know how special their little girl was, and how many people will remember her.
It is said that life is short, sadly some are shorter than others. But they are no less important, no less special. Each moment should not be taken for granted, so be thankful for each breath and for each beat.