A Haunting Thought

  1. When one leaves home to join the military at a young age, to serve in the medical field, all of the training that one receives cannot prepare that person for the tug at the heart from the unexpected. It can haunt one if one isn’t careful.

    A Haunting Thought

    It was 1976, and winter at Fort Carson,Colorado. Pike's Peak was snow capped and a dry chill wind nipped at my face as I struggled with my field jacket. I was ordered to "special duty", to the Out Patient Clinic for the evening. It was Flu Season. The Clinic would convert from seeing soldiers in the daytime, to seeing their family members in the evenings.

    The Hospital at Fort Carson, housed the clinic. The building went up in a hurry during the Korean War, so the floor plans made no sense. There were long, long hallways that raised up and down, like huge highway ramps, covered with green linoleum. The building was made of wood, a real fire trap. Taking a lab specimen was an exercise in patience as well as for the body, as it was about a quarter of a mile away from the clinic itself, or the wards. It was a privilege to serve the families in the evenings as it gave us medics a chance to see more than war scenarios (war games, drills, and the like.)

    Evening was a challenge for the families to come in before 8:00 p.m. as, after that we did not see new patients. With soldier-parents doing their day jobs, then getting home and grabbing the kid(s) to be evaluated by the Army doc, took skill to accomplish!

    It was about 7:45 p.m. The clinic was full. The clutter of snow boots, baby items, kids toys strewn about coupled with the sounds of coughing, sneezing and the occasional up-chucking made for a minefield of tension. My job was to greet the patients, ask their symptoms, take vitals and room them as quick as possible. The doc would take it from there, unless labs were ordered. Most of the kids were school and high school age. For the most part, the evening was uneventful. I'd lead the sick child with their parents down the hall, while nodding a greeting to those that were on their way out the door. The rhythm of the clinic was moving like a well oiled machine.

    Then it all stopped.

    I had just returned to the desk, when a quiet, timid young mother approached me with an infant, still wrapped in the blanket which covered most of the child's face. She was shaking the snow off of her collar, blew back the bangs that covered her eyes and said, "I think my baby is sick." I smiled and asked her what symptoms she noticed. She said that the baby had been crying more than usual and wouldn't eat. Also, she noted, "She feels hot to me."
    I stepped around the desk and brought her to the treatment room. I asked her to please remove the blanket so we could do a temperature.

    When she did so, I looked into the baby's face. It was blue.

    So young in my medical training, I had never seen cyanosis in real life, let alone on an infant. I yelled for help. My Supervisor, a R.N., called the code Team. Suddenly people came out of the woodwork it seemed. Respiratory came running, along with the Peds Doc from the ward. They snatched the child from the mother and began to frantically work on her. I stared as the team shouted instructions and did their best to bring this little one back. I looked over at the young mother. She was in shock, not moving, staring straight ahead.

    I gently escorted her to a chair and held her hand. "They will do everything they can, I promise you." Inside I felt sick. This poor woman, not a medical person, just a mom, a loving mom, brought what she thought was just a minor illness in her baby girl, to our clinic.
    I looked over again to the gurney where her 8 month old baby girl was. Spinal tap. Poor kid!! The specimen was handed to me.

    "GO!"

    The distance to lab was no obstacle for me that night. I ran...............!!!!!!! In the meantime, mom and baby were taken to the Peds ICU. I looked at my Captain, also a nurse, "Sir," I asked with some nervousness, "Is there any word?"

    "Not yet," he stated.

    I continued my duties, doing vitals, and rooming people, the image of that blue baby on my mind, and the image of that mother's stricken face. I tried to shake it off. Couldn't do it. The next morning, my Captain told me the news.

    "Spinal meningitis," he said. "The child died last night."

    "What?!" I was shocked. We hadn't had any cases up until now. And a baby??? What were the odds? I began to review in my mind, what occurred the night before. I didn't see her walk in, only saw her at the desk. If I had only checked under that blanket sooner....could we have saved her? Stupid, stupid thought.

    "You can't think that way," the Captain said.

    "That baby had no business being here. She should have been taken to the E.R., not the clinic." I jumped to the mother's defense.

    "How was she to know?? Children can't speak at that age! She couldn't tell her mother that she couldn't touch her chin to her chest....." I felt hot burning tears and quickly left the room. I was sent back to barracks for the day to calm down and deal with it.

    At 18 years of age, and new to this role in the military as a combat medic, I was taught to deal with injured and sick adult soldiers, not babies. It was a lesson in the unpredictability of life and medicine. Rationally, I understand that the baby's death wasn't my fault, but emotionally, I often wondered, if we had just seen her sooner....
    Last edit by Joe V on Jun 14
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    Have Nurse lives in Minnesota. She loves the Lord, people, nature and dark chocolate.

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    5 Comments

  3. by   VivaLasViejas
    Riveting story. It must have been awful to have been unable to save that baby, but as the captain said in so many words, you didn't cause it and there was nothing you could have done differently. I know what it's like to be haunted by "what-ifs", but I hope you were able to make peace with this event and put it in its place in your life and career. Hugs.
  4. by   Have Nurse
    Quote from VivaLasViejas
    Riveting story. It must have been awful to have been unable to save that baby, but as the captain said in so many words, you didn't cause it and there was nothing you could have done differently. I know what it's like to be haunted by "what-ifs", but I hope you were able to make peace with this event and put it in its place in your life and career. Hugs.
    Thank you for your kindness. Yes, it was so long ago, but once in while she still pops into my head. I take comfort that she is in Heaven. Thank you.
  5. by   Daisy4RN
    Great Article. As your Captain said, this was not your fault. But, this is a very hard thing to witness and I hope you are now at peace with it. I worked on an adult unit (not OB) where they would bring mothers who just had miscarriages, they would bring the "baby" up for the mom's to see, hold/touch, mourn, and say goodbye. If was heart wrenching and I will never forget it. I think it is always a little bit harder when it is a child/baby. You did your job...leave it at that with no "but what if". As a nurse you will have many opportunities to be there for people (in a different position then a medic would) and will have that experience to take with you. God puts people in our paths every day for us to assist and prepares us for that with different experiences. Godspeed!!
  6. by   Kooky Korky
    Quote from Have Nurse
    Thank you for your kindness. Yes, it was so long ago, but once in while she still pops into my head. I take comfort that she is in Heaven. Thank you.
    I still think of some of my patients. I probably always will. You did what you could, Have Nurse. I am glad you take comfort in knowing that that precious wee one is with God in the most beautiful place imaginable.

    Thank you for serving and God bless you.
  7. by   Have Nurse
    Quote from Kooky Korky
    I still think of some of my patients. I probably always will. You did what you could, Have Nurse. I am glad you take comfort in knowing that that precious wee one is with God in the most beautiful place imaginable.

    Thank you for serving and God bless you.
    Thank you, Friend. And blessings to you also.

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