Tuesday, December 24, 2002

Grief, Sorrow, Loss

Out of respect for the patients, I normally do not talk much about the medical calls I receive as Team Lead for the Emergency Response Team. However, this particular one was so profound and affected me so deeply that I must describe it to you. This wasn't your ordinary medical emergency call. It turned out to be the single most difficult situation I have ever dealt with in my life.

I received a page stating that we had a medical emergency and that the patient was 'hysterical'. Immediately a few things ran through my head. Was it someone who had gone postal ? An anxiety attack ? A nervous breakdown ? I hurried to the building and found the conference room where the patient was located.

The patient, a woman, had just put her 4-month-old baby into a private daycare that day. When she called the daycare to check on her child, the daycare worker insisted on talking to her manager. The manager pulled the mother, and her sister who worked in the same group, into a conference room and gave them the most horrifying news possible.

Her baby had passed away.

4 months old, and its first day in daycare. For no apparent reason - the child had no obvious or existing medical conditions. There was just no making sense of it. The baby was fine that morning, and when the mother called to check on her, she was gone. The mother and her sister, obviously, went to pieces.

My co-lead and I arrived first, and went into the conference room with them. Medically, they were fine. We had the paramedics check them out, they asked a few questions, then left. But emotionally, they were a mess.

I comforted them, talked to them, got them water, and listened. They both cried on my shoulder. Even though this wasn't a medical call, we were there for them in their time of need.

Seeing their pain and their grief, and remaining composed through it all, was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. What can you do for someone who is going through something so unthinkable ? What do you say to someone who is on the verge of losing all hope in life ? I told them over and over that they would get through it. That it's ok to cry and grieve. That they had family and friends that loved them and that would help them heal. That life will go on, even though it doesn't seem like it right now.

We, as ERT, were there for them in their darkest time. We let them know that someone cared. It may not have been much, but it was probably the best thing anyone could have done for them at that time.

We were asked to leave the room when the father arrived, to give them time to grieve. We took our cue and left.

I remained composed as we slowly walked out of the building. When the fresh air hit us, we, too, went to pieces. My co-lead has three children of his own, and this hit way too close to home for him. Although I don't have children, I was affected in a similar way. We could do no more than lean on each other and cry. Both of us went home early that day; he, right away, I, on the early train.

To this day, we do not know the cause of death. The word SIDS was mentioned, but what is SIDS, really ? Just a bucket that they put all the sudden-death cases that have no apparent cause. Unfortunately, being in a position of support, that is the only closure I am allowed.

Hug your family a little closer tonight. Life is fragile; never take it for granted.

These experiences have made me realize that I have the ability to make a difference in people's lives. Whether I am putting out car fires, assisting with accidents, or just being there in a time of need, I can make a difference in someone's life. The Emergency Response Team is no longer something I volunteer for as a side-activity. It is now integrated into my very existence. It is a part of me, just as much a part of me as my sports, my work and my home life.

At the Emergency Response Team All-Hands party, I took the microphone and praised every single member of the team that was present. It takes a special type of person to volunteer for the ERT. It takes a unique personality to want to reach out and help others in their time of need. I am truly proud to wear that orange ERT vest, and to be a part of a team of so many caring people.

Last year, I was awarded the Outstanding ERT Member award. This year, at the All-Hands, I was honored with the Outstanding ERT Lead award. I proudly display both crystal plaques in my cube. Being a part of the ERT has changed my life, and has made a difference in the lives of many others. I am truly blessed.

[see next post]


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