Lisa D. Doherty
The EMT rushed through the ER doors with a small, pale form in her arms. She walked quickly while doing chest compressions with two fingers. She laid the baby on the table and a new person took over CPR. We knew he was coming, we were ready, and we all knew our roles. My role was to assist with the IO insertion and to get a blood sample. I watched as the nurse used a tiny drill to penetrate the even smaller tibia. He got the needle in and I held it in place while he taped it down. He started the IV fluids and we were off. CPR was still happening and, at this point, they had been unable to place the endotracheal tube; something was in the way or just not right with this little throat. I tried to get blood from his heel, but he was so pale, so cold. I remember thinking he moved like a rubber doll. Only when we jostled him, and not in a natural way, stiff...thick. I couldn't get blood, even when I cut deep and squeezed hard. I couldn't get any from his hand either. They finally told me to stop trying.
Eventually, two doctors and four tries later, they got the ET tube in, and pink, frothy liquid came foaming up, it was all over the little towel holding his head in place. They pushed drug after drug, but nothing worked. Twemty-five minutes after arrival, they pronounced him dead. What was strange and a little disconcerting, was that the whole time we were working on him, I felt nothing. Nothing. He wasn't a baby boy, he was a thing we were trying to bring back to life. My motions were smooth and calculated. I focused on the task at hand. There would be time for feelings later. I suppose on some level that's a good thing, but it is a little strange to realize that I had the ability to switch your emotions off so easily. How did that happen? How did I learn that?
By that time our social worker had contacted the mother, who was in jail for drug and alcohol offenses. The baby had been placed in foster care, and we had learned that for some reason, none of the children associated with this family had lived passed the age of 12. It was suspected that this baby had died of asphyxiation. He was put to bed with an adult in a regular bed and they had rolled over and suffocated him. This is a common practice among natives, and eight babies died last year as a result.
Roughly 30 Native Americans had gathered in the ER and were waiting for news. It was explained to them that he didn't make it. We had done everything we could. We were very sorry. They all began to cry and wail. They shouted obscenities at one another and blamed one another. The mother arrived two hours later via police escort and screamed at the foster mother, “What did you do to my baby?!” We had to call the police. They moved outside and began throwing punches.
I was so angry! Where the hell were you when this baby needed you, you worthless excuse for a mother? Where was this huge family when he was placed in foster care? Why bother caring now that he's dead? You should have cared sooner, and with the same passion you are showing for kicking each others’ asses now. Don't waste my time crying now. I haven't the time or patience for your tears.
I cleaned him up, wiped his little face and got a blanket out of the warmer. I swaddled him and prepared him so the family could see him. I looked at him, his little face was swollen from our efforts. I thought, “God knew what He was doing. I don't mourn your death; I mourn the time you were here and had to tolerate these people. I mourn the fact that this is what you will take with you as the memory of your time here.”
Lisa D. Doherty is a nurse, wife, mother and student of life. Writing and studying the human condition have always been part of her design. She hopes to one day publish a memoir that focuses on her experiences caring for patients.