Crashing Down

(A special re-posting.

As I take a little blog break, this post came to mind after recent events both personal to me and those that others have endured. This absolutely frames my perspective when it comes to parenting and I get mired in the every day. When I stop to reflect, I realize (as I’m sure we all do) the most important thing in life is family. Our children, our loved ones and their health. Take the time to just be with your children and your family today. Bask in the chaos, the joy, and the mundane…)

I could never have imagined a sound like that. A gut wrenching, heartbreaking, primal scream turned shriek turned guttural moan coming from the mother in that room. A mother who had just lost her son. I will never forget that sound. I can’t. No matter how hard I try, I cannot forget.

Years later, the memory of that sound still gives me palpitations, stops me short, and leaves me breathless. From just outside the room where she was draped over her son, that sound reverberated all around us. It shook me to the core and left me there, cold and frozen that night as I made my rounds in the pediatric ICU.

The sobs of the heartbroken mother continued to fill the air. It was suffocating, I had to leave. My fellow resident signing out the ICU to me that night warned me, “…room 3, he’s dying, probably tonight. Don’t go in there”.

Even with a forewarning, nothing can prepare you for it.

As a pediatric resident in my second year, nights like this were not foreign to me . We were surrounded by sick children. Children with hearts that needed fixing, children with chronic diseases, children with cancer, or children struck by unspeakable tragedies. Some would die, some would get better. Some we would soon recognize by name and know their favorite cartoons. Children in an unnatural state. Sick. Some remained isolated from the outside world, only to be visited by family members and medical personnel carefully washed and dressed in sterile gowns.

In a way, I became immune to it all. I had to, we all did. We’d be living and breathing this place for three years. There was no room or time to let the sadness consume us. We all had a job to do.

Now, as a mother of two, it’s the eyes of those mothers that haunt me. Those mothers that hoped and prayed that her child would get better…would live. Those eyes revealed the desperation, the exhaustion, the hope, the love, and the anger that plagued them on a daily basis.

Every day that my children bounce out of their beds in the morning, I am grateful. Every day that I hear the laughter, the chatter, or even the bickering that now fills our home, I am grateful. Their health is a gift and I treasure it.

That night in the pediatric ICU, when I was not yet a mother but a pediatric resident listening to that mother’s painful sobs, I had no idea what kind of loss she just endured. For me, I was free to go home the next day. My world would keep turning. I had yet to bear any children. My arms had yet to be filled with a crying newborn. I had yet to know the joys of first smiles, first words, or the delicious smell of my child’s head.

For her, this was the last time she would hold her child in her arms, the last time she would smell his sweet hair, the last time she would feel his breath on her skin. Memories of him as a newborn, an infant, a toddler, a kindergartner, a child…must have come crashing down on her in those moments. For her, in that moment of her child’s untimely death, right then…the whole world shifted.

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56 Responses to Crashing Down
  1. Cheryl
    February 10, 2011 | 11:11 pm

    Oh, Melissa. I can see why this post meant so much to you. I am in tears. It is every mother's worst nightmare, and even though at the time you couldn't fully understand her loss, it clearly stuck with you. Healthy children are such a gift, such a fragile gift.

    Thank you so much for sharing this. It's beautiful.

  2. writingwithchaos
    February 10, 2011 | 11:18 pm

    I do not think I could cope in a job riddled with such loss. I know it has joys too, but the heartbreak would wear on me and get to me. Just look at the impression left with you years later, from a time when you had yet to comprehend what it was to be a mother.

    I need a tissue dammit.

    Thank you for writing and sharing this.

    Excellent work!

  3. Erin
    February 10, 2011 | 11:19 pm

    Amazing! My mom lost her 1st born and only son, my brother, he was 25 but it didn't make it any less painful I am sure, I could never imagine losing one of my children and once again, tonight, I am grateful!

  4. AnnaNova
    February 10, 2011 | 11:21 pm

    that brought tears to my eyes. i work in a hospital and i have these things in the back of my mind every minute of every day, it seems like. every time i hear that there is a pediatric trauma heading for the hospital, my heart skips a beat and i call home… as parents, we feel almost invincible sometimes not realizing how quickly things change. a minute, a second, and everything comes crashing down.
    i've learned, however, to let go of many things because of this. stuff that gets broken, house that gets trashed, im not nearly as bothered by these things now as i used to be, the perspective is a little different.

  5. Jill
    February 10, 2011 | 11:23 pm

    It's an odd compliment, but I feel like I could puke. You did such a good job of describing the mother and then "the smell of his sweet hair…" Wow.

  6. Cheryl D.
    February 10, 2011 | 11:23 pm

    This was not an easy post to read. It's any mother's nightmare.

    I can't imagine what it was like to witness it as a new doctor.

    Great post, Melissa!

  7. CK
    February 10, 2011 | 11:41 pm

    Wow. We really don't appreciate the emotional roller coaster our doctors must endure over long periods of time in their work. Thank you for what you do, especially as a pediatrician.


  8. The Duchess of Cookies
    February 11, 2011 | 12:50 am

    This was beautifully written.

    People always ask me when I plan to return to work (emergency med) and they look at me as though I am crazy when I tell them I have no plans to do so. I don't know how to explain to them what it's like to live with trauma every day… and then be NORMAL and emotionally available for my family…

    As a resident I had mastered the art of disconnect. Survival 101, you don't feel. Becoming a mother made me feel everything.

  9. Kasey
    February 11, 2011 | 5:23 am

    Ok, that was a tough read but for some reason I couldn't stop myself. What an unimaginable loss! I can not imagine carrying around those memories and I think it takes a special person to be in the medical field. It's hard to put into words, or make any sense of, the loss of a child. Thank you for sharing this story. We should all be grateful for our children because health is definitely a gift.

  10. Joey @ Big Teeth and Clouds
    February 11, 2011 | 6:06 am

    This is sickening. I just don't want to think about it. I wish there was something we could do to guarantee no tragedy so great would ever happen to our family.

  11. Jessica
    February 11, 2011 | 6:19 am

    Typing through tears. I often wondered about the human side of physicians, how they could move around me as I said goodbye, remain focused on their job of trying to keep my daughter alive. As hard as this was to read, that you for showing me that they feel too and that you live differently because of what you have seen.

  12. angela
    February 11, 2011 | 6:43 am

    Thank you for such an honest look into a difficult world. Dylan had surgery yesterday (minor – undescended testicle), and we were in the waiting room with a family whose little, little girl was there having her chemo port removed. It completely put things in perspective for me, but my heart breaks for those families who endure such stress and the doctors who see so, so many cases that don't have positive outcomes :(

  13. Kimberly
    February 11, 2011 | 7:41 am

    I will never forget the time when I had worked as a trauma nurse at the bedside of a 18 month old. She was DOA but in our hospital we put on shows for the parents to give them closure…
    I remember doing chest compressions and feeling her body so cold and lifeless in my hands. The Mom stood by the end of the bed praying, begging us to save her. I don't remember when I began sobbing with her…
    But I do remember when the resident put his hand on my shoulder and whispered in my ear "It's ok to stop now".
    I took the baby in my arms and swaddled her in a blanket and laid her in her moms lap.
    It was the worst thing I have ever witnessed.
    Since diagnosed with postpartum depression, I am continually surrounded by all of these stories. I see my sons face upon the bald courageous heads, his face on the weak…it is so hard.
    I don't think I can work there much longer. It's too painful.

  14. (Florida) Girl
    February 11, 2011 | 9:44 am

    Suffocating. I totally felt that.

    Stopping by from trdc.

  15. Terri
    February 11, 2011 | 10:41 am

    My heart goes out to any mother that has to live this nightmare. I can't even begin to think about life without my kids. Such a painful though.

  16. Mandyland
    February 11, 2011 | 11:42 am

    Reading this make me clutch my children closer, hold them tighter, kiss them. I cannot imagine witnessing that sort of elemental grief. Your beautifully written words took me there as an observer, someone who is looking through the window but can imagine the torment.

    This was an amazingly written post.

  17. Mrs.Mayhem
    February 11, 2011 | 11:43 am

    A chilling description of a nightmare. I am in tears for that mother, and for any mother who had lost a child. I imagine that is a hurt which will never fully heal.

  18. Working Mom Journal
    February 11, 2011 | 11:50 am

    This is a powerful post. You had me thinking about those lives that would never be lived…and mother's lives that will forever be changed. I cannot imagine being a doctor. I know I would totally lose it someday. Thanks for having the courage to write this. It really puts a lot of things in perspective.

  19. Rebecca
    February 11, 2011 | 12:44 pm

    Wow…this is wonderfully heartbreaking.

  20. Booyah's Momma
    February 11, 2011 | 1:12 pm

    So, I just got back from taking my son to his 2 year checkup, where we talked about potty training and teeth brushing. This post sheds a whole different light on things. This is the side of pediatrics most parents will, thankfully, never see. I can't imagine being on the flip side of that coin, either from a doctor or a parenting perspective.

    So well written.

  21. lydia
    February 11, 2011 | 1:13 pm

    This post really choked me up, as a mother I can imagine that pain- imagine but not fully comprehend it. You've reminded m to fully treasure my mmoments with my children.

  22. Stacey
    February 11, 2011 | 1:21 pm

    Way to make a girl cry! I can't even imagine doing that kind of work that would expose you to such grief on a regular basis. My heart goes out to that mother. I can not even imagine losing one of my children. It makes my heart ache just to think of the possibility.

  23. Elizabeth Flora Ross
    February 11, 2011 | 1:33 pm

    Oh, Melissa! I felt this in my very soul. Ever since I became a mom, I am touched by every single story of loss like this. They render me a sobbing mess. Because I know. I know how that loss would break me. I know how lost I would be. I know what that sound would be like coming from my own mouth. This was beautifully done.

  24. tsonodablog
    February 11, 2011 | 2:40 pm

    As a Mom who had a very sick child some 14 years ago (but thank God he survived and thrived) I can still feel the pain/hurt/sadness/hopelessness inside. We thought we were going to lose him. In fact we were told we would. But thank God we did not. The doctors and nurses were all phenomenal and so caring when we needed it most.
    I'm glad there are doctors who care, as in this world of HMO's and many people without any medical insurance, it seems a rarity.

  25. Not Just Another Jennifer
    February 11, 2011 | 3:05 pm

    Chills and tears… I too am thankful everyday for our healthy babies. I have friends who are not so lucky. I can. not. imagine. losing one of our girls. I have visited friends in the children's hospital and just being there is so heartwrenching. I am in awe of you and your work there. Incredible post. Thanks for sharing.

  26. Yuliya
    February 11, 2011 | 3:05 pm

    I barely made it through this. Gut wrenching.

  27. Laura
    February 11, 2011 | 3:31 pm

    This is beautifully and powerfully written. It makes my heart hurt and — as you said — makes me grateful for the chaos in my house.

  28. The mad woman behind the blog
    February 11, 2011 | 3:33 pm

    I was listening to Lightening Crashes by Live this week and thought to write a similar but fictional story. And I didn't have the strength. Thank you for telling her story. And for keeping the faith…I don't know how I could have continued in that role.

  29. Dana
    February 11, 2011 | 3:46 pm


  30. Adrienne
    February 11, 2011 | 3:46 pm

    I can not imagine. I feel like that is all I can say. Thank you for sharing. I take for granted all too often the health of my children, myself and my fiancee.

  31. Carrie
    February 11, 2011 | 6:28 pm

    Yet another job I could not imagine doing. The joy when a child does manage to get better perhaps helps to alleviate the constant sorrow you must deal with daily.

    Visiting from RDC

  32. Renee
    February 11, 2011 | 7:02 pm

    This made me cry. I could hear that mother.
    How hard it must be for all the medical personnel. No matter how long they've been working.

  33. Jennifer
    February 11, 2011 | 7:27 pm

    I love the journey that you have with that memory, how it starts with before you had children and the depth of what you saw that mother going through has only become more understood with the passing of time and your life.

  34. Gigi
    February 11, 2011 | 8:16 pm

    Wow. heavy stuff that you had to witness, Melissa. I could really feel how the air felt. Really good job. This was really well written.

  35. Jessica Anne
    February 11, 2011 | 8:48 pm

    So well written, I could feel both your pain and the mother's. Heart wrenching from the mother's perspective. Heart breaking from yours. Dealing with dying children would be more than I could handle.

  36. Lexie Loo & Dylan Too
    February 11, 2011 | 8:53 pm

    I am in tears. This was really well written. I can't even imagine witnessing that or going through it.

  37. Ash
    February 11, 2011 | 9:15 pm

    I read such stories and it always feels so voyeuristic, like surely it is just a play, a tale of horror worse than anything Stephen King could possibly conjure up. But it doesn't always happen to "other people," does it?

    IMO – Doctors deserve every single cent they earn.

    Fantastic story telling Melissa. I can't wait to hear more of your trials. May I request a light-hearted one for next time? :)

  38. Nichole
    February 11, 2011 | 10:35 pm

    There have been times since having Katie and Matthew where I have told myself that I have paid my dues…that I have lost enough in my life that surely my kids are safe from harm.

    I tell myself that, but I don't truly believe it.

    I pray every single day that I have lived through enough and that I will be spared any additional heartache. Because I'm certain that I wouldn't survive it.

    This is an honest and brave post, Melissa.
    I am so proud of you from writing from this beautiful place.
    Excellent job.

  39. Stephanie
    February 11, 2011 | 11:16 pm

    You bare your soul so beautifully.

  40. Miel Abeille
    February 12, 2011 | 1:01 am

    Whenever I think "this is the worst thing that could ever happen," I realize that it isn't. The worst would be losing a child. Yeah, it'll be a bummer to never met Mr. Right, never get married, never have children — but that won't be the worst thing that could happen. Burying my child would be the WORST thing that could ever happen.. when he/she is a year, 16yrs, or 45.. or having a miscarriage.. those would be the worst things that could ever happen.

  41. Galit Breen
    February 12, 2011 | 5:08 am

    Goodness GF, I have chills all over the place. This was a bone chilling read. You completely rocked this piece. Amazingly written, amazingly sad.

  42. Mama Hen
    February 12, 2011 | 8:58 pm

    This post is heartwrenching! It is unbelievable what children go through and the parents must stay strong, yet are dying inside. I could not imagine your job and what you have been through. It is a wonderful career choice, but takes someone very special. I hope you are well. Have a great weekend!

    Mama Hen

  43. Miri
    February 13, 2011 | 12:59 am

    I am just crying right now. This is my biggest fear, and while I try not to think about it, I do too often. It reminded me of a funeral I was at a few years before I had my first child, of a little four year old girl who died of a brain tumor. The image of her parents walking to her grave is burned in my memory, but when I saw it then I couldn't imagine just what it was for them.

  44. Nancy C
    February 13, 2011 | 11:39 am

    Thank you for sharing this. You never know what will happen to your children. It's out of our control. But I pray, God Forbid, if I am ever in that place, that the people that care for my children have hearts like yours.

  45. JDaniel4's Mom
    February 13, 2011 | 7:59 pm

    I can't imagine being outside that area knowing what was happening. I am going to hug JDaniel a few extra times in the morning.

  46. Veronica
    February 13, 2011 | 8:50 pm

    Your words make my heart ache for all the mothers that have gone through what you have described. It is my worst nightmare, just the mere thought of my children dying brings me great sorrow.

    This was very well written, thank you for sharing it.

  47. KLZ
    February 14, 2011 | 7:22 am

    This is actually why I stayed away from medicine as a profession. I know I could never handle that. You are a stronger woman than I.

  48. Tonya
    February 16, 2011 | 11:54 am

    Wow. This makes me want to hug my son a little tighter. I don't know how you do what you do. Bravo. Thank you for sharing this gut wrentching story.

  49. Carolyn
    February 16, 2011 | 12:13 pm

    I'll be hugging my children a little tighter tonight… and giving thanks that they are healthy and safe.

  50. Zoe Brain
    March 30, 2011 | 7:39 am

    I don't know how you do it. To be an effective paediatrician, you must be human, to empathise.

    But in order to be an effective paediatrician, you cannot allow these events to damage you.

    How do you reconcile the human need for closeness and self-defence of distance you must maintain?

    That's why I'd make a terrible medic. It would destroy me. Even reading this has me in tears, just from patterns of pixels on an LCD monitor.

    We had thirteen miscarriages before our son was born. I suppose you continue because you don't have any option.

  51. Magnolia Girl Stuck in the Middle of America
    May 22, 2011 | 11:24 pm

    As a mother of a child with Leukemia, this post was extremely difficult for me to read. It took my breath away. I survive everyday by pushing the seriousness of my son's disease out of my mind, I do not let the thought of him not surviving creep into my mind. Maybe I need counseling or maybe in order for me to make it through the hour, day, month, treatment phase, etc. I have to believe that he is strong and will beat this disease.
    I have dealt with a variety of doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel over the last 7 months and will sure meet many more over the next 2 and 1/2 years. I have had doctors (even some who are mothers) who seem to not be caring and sincere. Your post helped me to understand that they may have to numb their emotions to make it through that shift today. While I have looked in the eyes of other doctors and saw that they could not bear the pain of what we are going through. I appreciate that I can trust that doctor knowing he is looking at my child through a fathers eyes.
    Thank you for letting me hear/see this cancer journey through the eyes of our doctors and nurses. Your work is so appreciated. Parents of the world need great pediatricians like you.

  52. Katherine
    June 26, 2012 | 9:49 am

    Sometimes, at work, I resent myself for being distant, for being unemotional, for being able to go home to my healthy family, when my patients or their families are not able to. Unfortunately, it’s the nature of our work. I pray each day that I won’t have to experience what I have seen so many parents go through.

  53. Allison
    June 26, 2012 | 1:53 pm

    Wow! I feel that this was meant for me. I lost one of my twins June 24 2011 5 hrs after he was born……

  54. Carol McCall
    July 7, 2012 | 2:48 pm

    “Making the decision to have a child — it’s momentus. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking outside your body.”. — Elizabeth Stone.

    • Melissa
      July 8, 2012 | 9:27 pm

      Love that quote. So absolutely true. Thank you for sharing, Carol.

  55. Mothering From Scratch
    July 9, 2012 | 5:24 pm

    {Kathy} My husband is a pediatrician and father to all four of our healthy children. I have been present many times he has come home, quiet, grabbed a kid or two, and just gave thanks. He can’t tell me anything, sickness, abuse, accident…..but I know the look. He is haunted as well. I do believe that it is that remembering which keeps him focused on treasuring the now with our children–as you do too.