a story by Richard Jay Goldstein

Quiet Wednesday night in the ER. Staring into cold coffee, in a drug-company cup. Three AM. Time to grab a little sleep.

I’m in my windowless room, pulling off my shoes.

A man’s voice, shouting.

Shoes back on. Run out to the ER. Night nurse Diane, holding a phone to her ear with her shoulder. Trying to call me. But I’m standing right there.

A baby in her arms. Blue baby. Flaccid baby.

There’s a young guy standing there, hollering. He’s maybe twenty.

“Is he dead?” he shouts. “Is he dead?”

Diane trying to do solo CPR, not easy on a slippery little limp body. Sees me, drops the phone.

Into the code room: Baby boy. Nine months old. No pulse. No respirations.

Hollering guy tries to follow. I outshout him.

“Over there. Sit down. Now.”

For a second he looks like he wants to fight. Then he sits down. Over there.

Here’s what happens next: I slide a tube into baby’s trachea, start oxygen. Diane does chest compressions. Gently. Two fingers. Very small person. With a little oxygen the tough little heart starts back up. Good pulses. We start an IV. We hook up a heart monitor. Baby starts breathing, but not awake yet. Can’t have everything. We call the pediatrician.

Here’s the story the father gives us: Baby fussy all night. Suddenly goes snort, stops breathing. Scoops baby up, races to hospital.

Family shows up: young mother, maybe eighteen. She and hollering guy are separated. Both sets of grandparents, arguing. Your son couldn’t take care of. Wouldn’t have to if your daughter.

Diane sticks them in separate rooms.

As the pediatrician walks in baby starts convulsing. One seizure after another. Takes us forever to get them stopped. Probably brain damage from too long without oxygen.

We finally ship the baby off by helicopter to the big University Pediatric ICU.

What a great job, I’m thinking. Saving lives right and left.

A couple of hours later a call from the University Hospital.

“Some feedback on that kid,” says the University doc. “Did a CT. Subarachnoid bleed and retinal hemorrhages. Shaken baby syndrome. Somebody shook the hell out of him. Probably won’t wake up. But if he does, everyone will wish he hadn’t.”

Driving home later, I tell myself that the University pediatrician isn’t a prophet. Maybe the baby will be fine. My job is to do my job. Takes me a while to fall asleep.

The baby beats the odds by waking up. But a few months later it’s clear he’s severely impaired. Fourteen months. Can’t sit up, can’t eat. Virtually a vegetable. In a special care facility.

The father confesses to shaking him. Wouldn’t stop crying. Swear I didn’t think it would hurt him.

The state files charges, then drops them.

Meanwhile, in the ER, we go on battling death whenever we can, no matter what, because what else can you do?

© 2011, Richard Jay Goldstein