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.

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