Wednesday, August 23, 2006


I dined out in a resort town the first night of my vacation and there she was, sitting about 30 feet away. She had been the mother of 27 week twins in the pre-surfactant era, when respiratory distress syndrome could really knock a baby down and out, and unfortunately it knocked out her twins. The first died at a couple weeks of age, a few hours after a PDA ligation. (Note to clinicians: we checked, they ligated the correct vessel.) The second one suffered a large intracranial hemorrhage and became severely impaired before dying at age four years. They were not pleasant years for the mother. I remember her coming to the NICU to talk to us and ventilate her frustrations long after her baby was out of the NICU, when she was hospitalized on the pediatric ward for one thing after another. She was a nice lady in a tough situation.

But that was long ago, and now she was dining with a party of four: herself, a man her age, and two teenage girls, probably her family. She looked like she was enjoying herself and was likely on vacation too, like everyone else in that town, and in a way I felt a little bad for being there. I don't know if she saw me or not, but if she did it would bring back bad memories, interrupt her now normal life, and I didn't want to be the cause of that, especially while she was on vacation. It wasn't my fault, of course; it was just a serendipitous occurence. I couldn't help but keep glancing at her, wondering if she saw me, and if she did, wondering if she would come and talk to me. After a while, though, I was able to concentrate again on my spicy chicken sandwich and beer and enjoy my meal.

Her party left before we did. She walked within about 10 feet of our table, and she didn't look at me, let alone come and talk to me. That was okay with me, whether she recognized me or not.


Blogger Ex Utero said...

Been there. But you also get the "you saved my child's life in 99" and for the life of me I can't remember them, because I probably saved at least six dozen that year in one way or another and after a while on the really hairy one's stand out in your memory.

It's a yin yang thing.

12:51 AM  
Blogger PaedsRN said...

Last month I got the "someone here to see you" message, which usually means a parent of a past patient. Couldn't place the face, couldn't remember the baby. Only after an awkward five minute meeting was over did I remember the child, who I'd been primary nurse for and who died on my shift. Don't know why I don't remember the parents, but I never seem to be able to place them until afterwards.

I'd like to be one of those people with an encyclopaedic recollection of all the kids and families I've worked with, but my memory fails me again and again.

7:21 AM  
Blogger That Girl said...

I wouldnt know anyone who helped with my first son if you paid me. I think the mind slowly blocks that info out.

8:30 AM  
Blogger M. Dyspnea said...

Short-sighted I know, but it never occurred to me that this was a cross to bear for physicians and nurses. I forgot that you you have lives outside of the hospital.

8:54 AM  
Blogger neonataldoc said...

I wouldn't really call this a cross to bear. Usually I like seeing former patients, but this mom had had such a bad experience I hated to remind her of it again.

I can never remember old patients' names either.

9:44 AM  
Anonymous Julie said...

Thanks very much for this blog. It's enlightening to see the other side of things. (I'm the mother of a boy born at 29w5d, doing beautifully now thanks to his medical team.)

7:45 PM  
Blogger clara said...

Another way to look at it: When I see nurses and doctors in my town that took care of my son (who died of HIE at 7 weeks old) I enjoy seeing them. They remember us and they like to catch up for a minute. We like it because our son was most real to us and them, not even our friends understand that. Anytime I can talk about my son who passed away is nice, b/c in our society its all about avoiding pain & sometimes its nice to stop & reconnect even if it does hurt.

12:43 PM  

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