the room of tears

I have always gravitated to poetry to express myself. However, in the last year I have become enchanted with the podcast, The Moth, which is a storytelling venue. This summer my family and I went to a local Moth storytelling event. In those stories of strangers I have found such a greater understanding and perspective of people’s lives than in any book or poem I have ever read. I have become convinced that our stories matter. That everyone has a story, a tale that can enrich our lives and grow our souls. I am going to try to tell a few personal true stories as well as poems.


It was crowded in the small room in the NICU. We were trying desperately to save the little life in the bed. He or she, I can’t remember, but I will refer to him as he. He was born with a grave medical condition. There was a small hope he could live, faced with months of medical care and risks. He had been doing well and the parents and staff were hopeful he would grow and become stronger and one day be carried through the doors of our NICU to his home and his family. It had been a good shift for me. He had looked good all day and his parents and family had been in and out to visit him. His mother had held him with all the attached cords and respiratory equipment and monitors. However, withing minutes of her leaving, he swiftly began to decompensate. So quickly. Within moments his oxygen saturations plummeted, his heart rate fell and I could not for all my interventions get them up. I called for help. The room was instantly full of my colleagues, the Neonatologist, the Neonatal Nurse Pracititoners, the charge nurse, the respiratory therapists and several staff nurses were opening the crash cart, opening the top of the isolette, assessing the situation, intervening, trying this, trying that. Maybe more respiratory pressure? Change the settings on the ventilator? Perhaps he doesn’t like the machine, let’s try to hand bag him. Turn him this way, open his airway more. Nothing we did made any difference. His heart declined again and again. We fought to get his saturations and heart rate up and then they fell again. Again and again. Time began to be imperceptible as it always is in these crisis moments. One minute can seem like an hour or an hour like one minute. There were so many people in the room and the physicians and the nurse practitioners took over the hands on care. I left his bedside and began to gather the things they needed. Here’s the syringe. Here’s your CO2 detector. Yes, I have a 20 ml syringe of saline, here you are. Then his mother returned. She had just come back to say one more goodbye before she left the hospital. We would have called her and her husband within moments to tell them to come emergently to their son’s bedside. But we didn’t have to, she walked in to a scene of crisis where minutes before she had left a quiet room with her son sleeping in a nest of wires and equipment keeping him alive. It was a quiet room of activity. Everyone had a job. The Neonatalogist was in charge of the event and was directing the activity. I left the room as now I was just in the way and obstructing the life saving hands around me. I sat outside the room, looking in through a wall of glass, charting the events, waiting to get whatever was needed or do whatever was asked. The mother began to weep, wailing, crying loudly, praying to God to save her baby. Praying and crying the words that every mother prays when their child is dying. It was a quiet hum of activity apart from the sobbing of the mother. But as I looked through the glass just in front of me I could see the respiratory therapist. She was turned away from the bed and the people and was busy with her task on the counter. She was preparing equipment to intubate the infant again. Her hands moved quickly and compentently. But as I looked at her face, I could see tears flowing copiously down her cheeks, even as her hands moved to finish the task. She brushed them away as she turned to hand the doctor the equipment calmly. I still see her face, tears flowing for all of us, even as we calmly used all the skills we had to try our best to save his life and his mother said her final goodbye.

9 thoughts on “the room of tears

      1. I can understand that. It must be a very difficult job at times, but it must also be very fulfilling and rewarding. Very draining too though, I would think.

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      2. Luckily these kinds of events are few are far between, but twenty years as a nurse has given me a fair amount of memories of suffering and sadness; of course it’s hardest for the families, but we grieve too. I’ll never forget that respiratory therapist and how she cried so silently and noone would have even known except I was standing on the other side of the glass from her. It’s how we all felt inside. It makes me so proud of all of the lifesaving people in medicine, all my colleagues who choose every day to celebrate and suffer with people.

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      3. Aww, that is so touching. Yes, you all do a wobderful job. I remember when I had cancer and the Specialist Cancer Nurse knelt down in front of me and caressed my forehead and face so tenderly, like a mother, but with tears in her eyes because I was suffering so much, and she was saying my name, “Lorri, Lorri” as I was expected to die but didn’t. She felt everything with everyone too. She had been a cancer nurse for 30 years

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      4. Yes, nurses (most of them) are a special breed. That is a beautiful, beautiful moment you shared. I feel so honored to call myself a nurse when I work among people like the one you described. I feel like it’s a calling to want to walk alongside people at their lowest place and offer hands of healing. We really do love our patients (well MOST Of them, and of course there is always a grumpy nurse or two in the bunch)! It’s like we’ve been given a calling (for most of us). I hate to generalize and speak to glowingly but honestly most of my colleagues are really special people. Thank you for sharing that moment with me. I shall remember it.


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