Saturday, July 08, 2006

Humanity

The NICU was crazy busy, one of those days when sick babies just kept on coming. Everyone was doing something, monitors were alarming, and staff were calling impatiently for help with this or that. Sitting on a stool in the middle of the commotion sat a woman alone, weeping. Her 27 week gestation baby had just died at two days of age. She was a heroine addict, thin and cachectic, with no friend or family around for support. After I told her about her baby's death, I unfortunately had to leave her alone to care for one of the living, and now she looked about as alone as anyone could be. Finally one of the nurse practitioners had a moment to put her arm around her and move her a little out of the way of the busy aisle she was in.

This happened twenty years ago, during my fellowship training in neonatology, and I will never forget her. It struck me that she was about as different a person from me as there could be in the U.S. She was black, lower class, jobless, and probably without enough food. Her days were dominated by the need to find drugs, and many would consider her one of the dregs of society. On the other hand, I was middle class, not black, had never in my life lacked for food, and was well on my way towards a respectable career.

Yet looking at her then, I realized how very similar we really were. Stripped to the core of our humanity, as we are in times of extreme emotion, she was just like me. She grieved for the death and loss of her baby just as I or a middle class mother would grieve. At that moment in time, her place in society didn't matter. She was a devastated mother, just as women in all places and from all times are when their child dies.

I sometimes wonder what happened to her. She might not be alive anymore; heroin addicts don't have a terribly long life expectancy. If she is, though, I'm guessing she still thinks of that baby every day.

5 Comments:

Blogger Flea said...

I wonder if the patients realized how much we were like them... I mean really understand how little we differ from them, would they sue us as often?

best,

Flea

7:49 AM  
Blogger neonataldoc said...

Interesting thought, Flea. My guess is that as long as people can sue for free, they will do so. There's no risk for them.

8:26 PM  
Blogger WendyLou said...

I'm a child welfare social worker, and when I started, I was amazed to learn how little difference between myself, my family and my life and my clients. Everyone has a screwed up sibling or parent. Everyone usually gets fired, runs out of money, overindulges on something, yells at their kids, etc. The difference is small. But for the grace of God, there go I.

I wonder what would have happened should I have used pot more than one, tried meth, etc. I don't want to know.

Sometimes as professionals, we can get a condescending attitude toward our clients, as if we are better than them because we are not addicts, etc. But when you boil it all down, we are human. We bleed. We hurt. We die. We love. We want to be loved. Just like everyone else.

Last week, I watched a meth addict relinquish her parental rights to twins. She was in agony as she did this. I cannot imagine how hard it would be to sign you name on that line. I do know that I hurt for her, and that I shared her pain that day.

7:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Stripped to the core of our humanity, as we are in times of extreme emotion, she was just like me... At that moment in time, her place in society didn't matter."

I really do think you are a compassionate, good person. But why do you focus so much on people's "place" in society? And why does this woman have to be in such a pathetic condition for you to feel your common humanity?

I'm really not trying to be rude, I just want to ask a question I feel might help you understand yourself better, and perhaps this can help make you an even more compassionate person.

8:04 PM  
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1:39 AM  

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