Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Teddies and Elephants and Tears

Today I had one of those unexpectedly gut-wrenching experiences, as I was waiting for the elevator on one of the medical floors, the one that looks out onto the Helipad.

I’m always amazed that the pilot can land a helicopter full of bustling paramedics and a (usually) severely injured patient on this relatively tiny piece of rooftop. I had finished rounding on our inpatients, and I wasn’t in a hurry to get anywhere, so I walked to the window, and watched.

It was a beautiful clear day, and the large window is fairly close to the landing pad. The helicopter had just landed and the crew was pulling out the stretcher. There was a carseat on it, with a very awake and scared toddler strapped in, clutching a teddy bear. He wasn’t crying; he was craning his head this way and that, looking around, probably for his mom or dad, but it was only uniformed crew members around him. I could even see that his teddy was kind of worn, and lopsided, like it’d been washed. As the crews started wheeling the stretcher towards the doors, the teddy started to fall, and the toddler frantically grasped at it; there was a flash of panic in his already terrified eyes. But a crew member stopped the stretcher and planted the teddy firmly in the boy’s arms, before continuing, and the boy clutched at that teddy for dear life.

In the space of those few seconds, I not only wondered, I wanted to know how hurt the toddler was, or if he’d been airlifted as a precaution, or where his parents were? What happened, how bad was the accident? Were his parents OK?

And I thought of my toddler at home, just starting to get attached to his own Teddy; just starting to realize when we leave and when we come home. Lately he cries around strangers and clings to us… I imagined him in a carseat strapped to a stretcher and airlifted to a rooftop trauma center somewhere. Would a crew member be so kind as to make sure his Teddy didn’t fall out of his arms? And I pretty much almost lost it right there. My eyes blurred with tears, and I would have started bawling, but the “ding” of the elevator arriving made me pull it together.

The elevator doors opened but I still watched as the crew wheeled the baby in the carseat out of sight, my eyes welling with tears.

Then I realized that there was lady standing inside the elevator, waiting for me to get on; I think she was kind of annoyed. I also realized that I looked like I was about to cry. I felt the need to offer some sort of explanation, so as I stepped on, I murmured, “Sorry, the helicopter just landed, and it was a baby.”

“Oh!” she said, her face softening. “Oh, that is very sad, you always wonder what happened…” and when she got off, she smiled and said, “Take care.”

All day the image of the baby in the carseat, the flash of panic, the grasping for teddy, the crew member placing the teddy in his arms… all day this has been with me and all day I have been just on the verge of tears.

And at the end of the day, as I was walking to my car, again thinking of this, and reflecting on how lucky we are, and how anything can happen to us at any time, I saw elephants. I mean, real elephants.

Apparently, the circus is in town, and they were unloading the elephants from the trucks to the stadium. The stadium is right near my parking lot, and I got quite a show: Three elephants marching up the long ramp to the delivery bay, each one holding the tail of the one in front of it with their trunks, so adorable. They weren’t very large elephants, must have been Indian elephants, if I’ve learned anything from Animal planet.

There were many people who had stopped to watch this spectacle, including some moms with babies in strollers. And I again thought of my toddler at home. He would have got such a kick out of this. He loves animals. I teared up again, but this time a smiling-tearing-up.

Someday, I thought, we’ll take him to the circus. That we can do.


  1. This! This this this! This is one of the hardest things in practicing medicine for me. I will carry this around all day. I will think of it when I am at home with my own toddler. I will be sad when I should be happy. I am not good at turning it off. I would love to hear how others do it.....

  2. So very touching. Very good post. This is exactly how i feel so often whenever i come across babies and toddlers in hospital. I see my child there. Am happy that after becoming a mother, I handle my paediatric patients with even more compassion and love. I understand how the mother of the child must be feeling and most of the time I am fighting tears before i regain my composure and get into action. It becomes really hard at times. And I do worry a lot, realising that so many bad things could happen to my kids also. Being in Anaesthesia and Critical care, I do come across some critically ill or injured children. That makes it harder.
    Very well written post. As if put my feelings in words!

  3. Great post, genmedmom!

    There is an element of transference with every child I see; partly because I remember being a kid, partly because I can relate to his or her mother. I don't know how to really shut it off, but I don't know if I want to, either.

    Sometimes I carry my work home with me, mentally...one thing I've decided might help would be to take my "home" to work with me, i.e. have my hubby bring my kids for dinner on call, carry around the obnoxious coffee mug plastered with their pictures, call them during lunch...just one way to bring a smile to my (otherwise chronically pensive) face. So far it's helping.

  4. Enjoyed what you share in your post. Thank you. Blessings.

  5. Several years ago we were driving in Arizona on the way home from a ski vacation. A van going WAY too fast sped past us, a little girl waving at us from the back window.

    As we stopped for gas, we were delayed by ambulances rushing to the highway.

    About 20 miles farther on, the van was on it's side in the median, paramedics rushing about.

    My heart contracted when one of them reached into the van and pulled out a small bundle wrapped in a blanket. I took heart because he RAN to the ambulance - he wouldn't have had to run if there was no chance.

    These are the kinds of things that really do me in emotionally. Yes, I cried.

  6. Lovely post.

    The hardest part of being a Mom and a doc is the kids. I bring mine to work mentally every day. It's a little easier as they get bigger.

    I think it makes me more human and more approachable as a doc, too.

  7. Beautifully written post. Being a mother has dramatically changed my care of patients, many of whom have experienced the loss of a pregnancy or of a very preterm baby. I commonly ask myself, why them and not me?

  8. What a wonderful post! I'm trying not to let my tears fall on my own toddler as I'm sitting here rocking him to sleep.
    just my own opinion, I think there are things that only a parent, and at times, only a mother, can really understand. and although it's harder on us, I think it's invaluable to the patients and their families.
    i also like scrubmama's suggestion- if you're bringing work home, you may as well bring home to work too. I'll bet that does help!

  9. Catching up on MiM... Beautiful post. Whenever I see young kids sick or hurt at work, makes tears well up for me too. Since my experience is in Internal Medicine, my feelings on this subject translate to seeing the relationship between adult children and their parents - when a grown man is sick in the ICU on the vent with a neurotic, difficult, needy more elderly mother at the bedside 24 hours a day. I always end up imaging myself with my son in her position. It's never easy to see your child, or someone else's, ill - no matter how old they are. I find I have so much more empathy for that mom than the rest of my team who are groaning about how difficult she is. I will be that kind of momma bear defending and advocating for my cub if, god forbid, he were ever sick in the hospital.


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