Once, I accidentally locked my nephew in my car for almost forty-five minutes. In all fairness, it was Brodee’s fault for losing the keys, but honestly, who trusts a one-and-a-half-year-old with car keys BEFORE leaving the car?
While happy to have a day with him, I was surprised to find out that my sister initially would allow me to take him two hours away from home to the not-so-local aquarium in Tampa–not because I am a bad driver or a poor caretaker but because she is a protective mother. I don’t blame her! So many things could go wrong if I was not careful, like accidentally locking him in the car. Whoops.
Eventually, she recanted and allowed us to go on our adventure. Despite that minor setback, the trip was great. I saw my nephew’s eyes fill with jubilation as the otters swam back and forth, back and forth. His favorite exhibit was the clownfish–he incessantly watched them swim along the coral reef. As the fish swam in all directions, I could see not only happiness, but also hope itself in Brodee’s eyes; a life full of innocent hope without expectation or fear of the future.
Still, that trip was one of my favorites. I always look forward to any chance to spend time with my nephew. After all, while medical school teaches the complexities of life, it also takes me away from it. And missing the major milestones of my nephew’s life always fills me with guilt.
Back and forth, back and forth. Well, I guess it’s time to pull myself back to reality. Just so you know, I tend to get lost in memory to cope. Back and forth, back and forth.
Let me take you back to a few minutes before my mind wandered. My colleagues and I were just told about a newly-admitted patient who had a rare physical exam finding I had only read about in textbooks. Eager to learn something new, the entire teaching service went down to the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU). Once in the room, I identified a two-year-old Caucasian male obtunded on a hospital bed with tubes entering his little body from every direction: Each tube was carrying a vital component life support. Per air-EMS, the boy had gotten into a bottle of methadone pills accidentally left out by a caretaker. So many terrible things could go wrong when one isn’t careful.
No family was present. My hope was that he was alone because the pain that his loved ones felt when being close was just too hard for them: I hoped he was loved. My attending called our attention to her grasp on the patient. With her steady hands on either side of the child’s seemingly calm face, she peeled back his eyelids and gently shook his head back and forth, back and forth. The child’s eyes remained midline the entire time; back and forth, back and forth. His eyes were still midline, still lifeless: His soft features and tousled hair looked just like Brodee’s. But unlike Brodees’ eyes, filled with innocent hope, my young patient’s eyes were hollow.
My world slowly became silent and muffled by disbelief. This little boy had a hopeful future with wonderful possibilities but was all too quickly snuffed out because someone was not careful. A product of a circumstance that he could not control. He would never be able to move on from this day. He would never grow; never again feel the love of family. What frightened me the most was that he would never know a future. He is suddenly became he was. He was so full of potential.
I always thought the goal of medicine was to cure an illness. But, the memory of this little boy continues to remind me what it is like to see the eyes of someone without a future or hope. Although the thought of seeing eyes like his again frightens me, it motivates me to use medicine to return fearless hope to the eyes of my patients.