Your heartbeat roars through your ears, attempting to peel your attention away from the body lying before you. He can’t be older than 5, he is innocent and helpless as his delicate complexion falls and rises in time with the machines that have him surrounded. The sterile scent of the theater makes your stomach plummet. This is what you’ve been trained for, but you feel unfamiliar and vacant. Breathing becoming shallow, yet steady as you feel the pressure begin to wrap its hands around your throat. A good surgeon operates with his hands, not his heart. But you can’t free yourself from a sudden ambush of emotion. You picture his mother, sitting on a rickety plastic chair, feeling claustrophobic even though the eggshell white corridor is wide. She is counting on you.
Alarm fills you head to toe as the machines start to scream for attention. The green line on the heart monitor starts to become less synchronized, the numbers flash in warning. You hear yourself fire commands to the nurses like a lieutenant calls to his soldiers. You move like clockwork, doing everything you can. Fate is heavy in the air, ready to have the last say. The white light above you tunnels, looking like an entryway to heaven, enticing your patient. You pick up your weapons and begin to fight, but time moves on relentlessly. The heart monitor has a continuous beep sound. One after the next, as if a city truck was backing up on the street, alerting anyone near by. Then out of nowhere, the monitor changes its tone. This time the sound is constant. A long flat piercing sound penetrating your ears. 3, 2, 1 CLEAR you cry, trying to hide the tremble laced in your words. His exposed body is thrown up before you, as the shock possess him. The battle field around you freezes as you wait. Wait for a heart beat, wait for a breath, a sign of life. You bow your head as your fingers drum against my scrubs in spasm. The lifeless body before you has pale skin smudged with purple bruises. He lies peacefully as his soul escapes his body without a sound. You’re defended by your emotions as you realize it is the end.
You watch as they pulled the sheet over his raindrop face, erasing him from your sight and removing him from this world.
The silence is numbing as you walk along the corridor. The strangers around you nod politely- they don’t know that you are a failure. That you lost a life, you fought with death and could not win. You change out of your blood-stained scrubs. You watch your mouth open and close in the mirror, practicing giving a parent the worst news of her life. An unsteady breath slips between your lips as you walk into the waiting room. You recognize the mother’s bloodshot eyes, the same as his. She is vacant as you approach her, mind elsewhere. Your words follow one another as you speak in a low, sincere tone. You stand rigid and uncomfortable, guilt haunting your every apology.
You remember her tears pooling on the collar of her shirt, her struggle to speak, how the hysterical sobs shook her thin frame. You felt her heart break, splintering like a crystal vase on a marble floor. Her grief surges on with every expelled breath as you make feeble efforts to comfort her. These memories dance around your mind late at night, refusing to let you forget. To lose a child is to lose a piece of yourself.