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Children In The Graveyard

September 6, 2011

Despite the poor sleep last night, I am once again wide awake. There is no way I will be able to get a somewhat decent amount of sleep tonight. I give up, you win insomnia. Because of the holiday there was no first response training this week, so to ease my MFR withdrawal I have been browsing through my usual medical blogs. I came across one that I haven’t seen before, and I am completely blown away by the beauty of it. I strongly recommend it: Paramedic Pulp Fiction. This blog, along with a post I read elsewhere about how medical professionals “bury” emotionally difficult patients (usually deaths) in a mental “graveyard” has opened up a few graves of my own. I can’t recall which blog the graveyard post was on, but I will look for it and update this entry if I find it.

A patient doesn’t have to die under your care for them to be buried in your graveyard. Any time someone is psychologically difficult for you to provide care for, they earn a grave. It could be a cancer patient if you’ve lost a loved one to cancer, it could be a pediatric patient that eventually pulled through (especially if you are a parent), it could be a domestic abuse victim if you’ve lived through abuse. No matter what was wrong and what happened to them, you never forget the day you met them. Eventually you stop thinking about them, but every now and then something triggers the memory and it all comes back. I have a few, both from doing first response and home care. I dug my first grave within my first year of first response. There was no death, there was nothing wrong physically, but everything about it was wrong. I dug my first grave for a pediatric victim of sexual assault.

I remember everything. I remember their name, what they were wearing down to tiny details. I remember their hairstyle and colour, I remember the expression on their face as they approached my partner. I remember the sheer rage I had to swallow at not only the situation itself, but also at the complete disregard of the situation by the parents. I remember the outpouring of love and support given to the patient by the friend that never left their side, and also the crushing sadness knowing that neither of them would ever be the same. I remember the fear, confusion, and agony in the eyes of the friend. I will never forget the thousand yard stare of a child in shock as they look you in the eyes and tell you every detail of how someone forced them into a situation they did not want or understand. I remember the look on their face as the weight of the situation began to crush them emotionally, frantically searching my face for some sort of answer as to why it had to happen to them and how they could go on as if it never happened. All I could do was listen and document. I did what I could to help them get justice by initiating the reporting process, but the system failed them. The perpetrator got off scot-free. For a long time I felt that I failed the patient because of this. I accept now that that part of it was entirely out of my hands. I did all I could. All I can do is hope that when they were looking at me for answers, they at least found something that has stuck with them to remind them that there is some good out there if you know where to look.

There was nothing I could have done to prevent this from happening, there was nothing I could have done differently or better. I was offered critical incident stress counselling immediately after it was all said and done. I declined because I just wanted to go home and try to get back to some semblance of normalcy. It took a long time for life to feel normal again. Up until that patient, I wasn’t fully convinced that I wanted to spend the rest of my life in health care. Since that day I have never questioned whether or not this type of career is right for me or not. I know it is because of that patient.

Bad things will always happen to people that don’t deserve it. Some can handle building their life around making sure those that violate the innocent pay. I can’t do that; I would not be able to stand in front of a court room and argue to prove the guilt of someone like that and be able to retain my sanity. I would rather spend my life trying to show the broken that there is still some good out there instead of arguing to prove the existence of evil.

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