God, I’m tired, I thought to myself. I was 20 hours into a seemingly endless stretch on my Pediatrics rotation. The hours before had held overdoses — both accidental and intentional — plus surgical emergencies, medical train wrecks, and a steady stream of URIs and AGEs that we would sign off of in the Peds ED. What had started off as exciting and engaging quickly deteriorated into the frustrating encounters to which we’ve all become accustomed. Healthcare misuse. Social conflict. Recurrent evidence of parental neglect that slowly begins to drain even the purest of souls.
With a few minutes left before morning rounds, I seized the opportunity to shower and shave in the back call room. It’s well-appreciated that a quick clean can substitute for a few hours of sleep — and a chance to brush your teeth is worth at least half an hour of hospital cot napping. I dried my hair, rubbed a towel on my face one more time, and hurried back to the top of the unit, just in time to join the collecting huddle of scrubs, suits, and white coats of various sizes.
Rounds began. The familiar circle that — by definition — never ends. The 2-week old in 307. She had seized the day before. The teenager in 312 was maintaining his airway, but the Mom in 317 tried to leave with her child again. The same child that was found to have multiple fractures and retinal hemorrhages. We moved from room to room, reviewing the events from the day before, each story of abuse, neglect, or loss only exacerbating my exhaustion and potentiating my pessimism. I was ready to go home, to sign off on pediatrics as a possibility, and to never encounter an irate parent or withdrawing infant again.
The last room on the list was 324, where Baby Girl Smith rested, just a few hours old. Her mother was still upstairs, the list of her complications longer even than her newborn daughter’s. As fate had it, the attending stood with her back to the warmer, the team circling out from there. I stood directly across, nothing on my mind but the drive home and the call of my comforter.
As I stared absently at the tiny baby under the warm lights, she opened her eyes wide for the first time. She looked back at me, endlessly interested at all around her. And at that moment, that’s when I knew the value of every encounter. That’s the moment I fell in love with pediatrics