Sick children are never easy to care for, nor does it get easier to see them come into my emergency room. The parents are all the same; emotional, distraught and overwhelmingly concerned for their child’s welfare. We do our best to remain stoic while in the presence of the children and their families, but I know many healthcare workers like myself who go home and cry after a hard shift.

The One Case that Stuck With Me

All of us have a story like this, where one particular patient or case haunts us for years to come. Mine is full of tragedy and heartbreak, and one that has affected other areas of my life. It was a warm night, no wind and the ending of a beautiful day. The emergency room had been pretty calm for most of the shift, and we had passed the time cleaning and stocking rooms. It was about three in the morning when we heard a voice come over the ambulance dispatch radio. Screaming could be heard in the background as the paramedic quickly gave the report of what was arriving soon at the ER.

The Report that Foretold Tragedy

The paramedic was briefly explaining a motor vehicle accident, MVA with four occupants inside at the time of the crash. Two were dead on the scene, and two were on their way to the ER. It was the mother and her son. The mother had minor injuries of broken legs, a broken left arm and multiple abrasions on her body. The son was unconscious, unresponsive and vitals were plummeting fast. We found out later that the father and daughter had died on impact after being hit by a drunk driver.

We Prepared Ourselves for the Worst

Soon after the report was done, sirens could be heard in the ambulance bay, they had arrived. Multiple nurses and doctors rushed to begin working on the mother and son as they were wheeled in separately. The mother was crying, screaming her son’s name and asking where her husband and daughter were. I had to bite my tongue to keep the tears back. The other nurses and doctor began to work on the mother. I joined another doctor and began assessing the son, realizing he was in a coma. The doctor ordered multiple tests, and we found out within an hour that he had a severe internal brain bleed and would most likely not survive.

The Aftermath

No amount of preparation could have prepared us for that night. The son died from his injuries, and the mother became hysterical and suicidal upon learning that her entire family had died. My heart broke for her, and her grief became my grief. They had just picked up their son from boot camp graduation, he had just joined the Army. The daughter had just graduated high school, and the father had just retired from his career as a school principal. To this day, that night still haunts me.