Dear Dr. C:
I want to sincerely express my thanks for helping my son 3 years ago. I can’t remember if I have thanked you since then and want to remind you how highly regarded you are in our family.
It was a Tuesday afternoon in September 2011 and you just happened to see our family in a hospital room on the pediatrics floor. You didn’t know my son or me but you recognized my husband, a fellow pediatrician. You were probably on your way to your usual spot in the intensive care unit but something made you stop. You must have thought things didn’t add up. You saw my husband, looking worn and worried, with an equally worn and worried wife at the bedside of a little 3-week old baby, together with a silent and scared grandma in the wings. There was a flurry of activity with nurses and doctors and technicians and alarms and phone calls and talking and crying. You saved my son’s life by peeking your head in our room at that exact moment. It must have been a split second decision, but one that I am so grateful for.
I don’t remember many details about my son’s first weeks of life, like most mothers, it is usually a blur. But I remember the moment so clearly, when you walked in and greeted my husband. I saw something change in your face when you absorbed the story of the baby lying there in front of you. Your face changed from a friendly one, to an instinctive, inquisitive and firm one. The admitting doctor in the room recoiled, letting you take charge with more questions and orders for the staff. I knew I needed you there. You were at the foot of the bed with your arms crossed, discussing a differential diagnosis of what could be going on with my husband.
After watching you for what only could have been a minute or so, I turned back to my child, moaning, writhing, exhausted on the exam bed. Everything else was drowned out in that moment. I didn’t know if he was hungry but I wondered, because my breasts were leaking and painful and that is when he would usually eat. I grabbed his small wrinkled hand but that was no comfort to him. I had uncontrollable tears as I looked at all the lines and tubes and tape and fluids going in your little arm. I rubbed my eyes and looked up at his cardiac monitor. His heart rhythm was changing. And he was dying.
You started shouting out orders for medications to be given stat. You said loudly that our son was too sick for you to even leave the room. You wanted him to be in the ICU as soon as possible. My mom told me she got a chaplain who could help us. I remember timidly asking if we could take a moment for a prayer because I had this sick feeling in my stomach that it might be our only chance. Your demeanor changed and I saw you quickly weighing the options. You chose to give me the moment and even prayed with us. It was absolutely gut-wrenching to see my child so helpless, to know what was going on as a doctor myself, and to have a glimpse of that deep visceral soul-crushing feeling that a parent must have when she loses her child.
Thankfully, we didn’t lose him that afternoon. You came just in time. He might have had minutes or hours left with us if your instinct to help had not taken over. I remember talking with a specialist later that evening, while rocking my son in my arms, still attached to lines and a urinary catheter. She knelt down beside me and told me that my baby’s kidneys were very damaged and that he will need a kidney transplant. Thankfully because of the good care that day, he would not need one yet. There wasn’t anything that could have prevented this, seeing as he was born with a rare congenital urethral malformation. A small membrane grew where it wasn’t supposed to be while in utero and hence, caused a lifetime of damage. In doing research later, I learned this condition could have been much worse, requiring dialysis right away or needing a transplant immediately. Some kids don’t even make it very long.
While none of this is what I planned or hoped for my child, I am so grateful he is still here with us. He is joyful, beautiful, energetic and smart! He has such vitality and strength now that I don’t think anyone remembers how ill he once was (except his parents, of course). He has been through several surgeries, painful procedures, countless blood draws, therapies, and doctors appointments…and yet you could never tell by looking at his toothy smiling face.
Thank you, Dr. C! I am sure you are not told this enough. You care for many children everyday and you should know that you are a superhero in our eyes. And so is our son!