Monday, April 12, 2010

Moments For The Soul

A bit of commotion in the ICU tent early in the evening as some of the American staff were scurrying around.  A young boy, maybe ten or eleven, had taken a 10-foot fall onto the ground; upon further investigation it became a 50-foot fall.  In the center of maelstrom were two Americans, an ex-football player now trauma surgeon and an anesthesiologist; both were desperately attempting to obtain needed laboratory results in order to get the boy into emergency surgery.

An ancient hand-litter was found abandoned in the corner;  the surgeon and I hurriedly carried the boy through the obstacle course of patients, beds, tents, and doorways into the operating room. Along side the litter the boy's father struggled to keep up; his calloused hand resting on the tiny chest. A panicked voice in the dark muttered, "son, son, son" over and over again trying desperately to communicate with his little boy.

To describe the operating room would be it's own post, but suffice it to say the only word that I can find is, "medieval"; only a handful of dim florescent lights, stacks of disorganized supplies, and a few pieces of dysfunctional equipment.  The boy was dying. 

A Haitian surgeon appeared while the boy was being intubated and "put to sleep".  The new arrival could plainly see in the American's eyes that he was "assisting" on this one.   With only a single patent IV line an incision was rapidly made in the little boy's abdomen, fluid erupted from his belly in staggering amounts.  I left, there was nothing more I could do, it was in the hands of the surgeon.

Hours later I learned that the boy had died.  The surgeon, standing by himself in the street's shadows, was clearly alone within his thoughts.  What struck me was the emotional investment on the part of the burly American, a man who likely had faced death and dying countless times in his life. My image of the quintessential 'trauma surgeon', the gods on earth that are the definition of stoic, precise executors of their science/art was immediately burst.  A moment that has become a part of my soul for the remainder of my life.

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