Tuesday, July 24, 2007

why you have ow

I recognized his father before I recognized him, but that was not surprising. Since the last time I saw either of them, the boy had lost a good deal of weight and all of his hair, these large, soft brown curls, which had hung almost to his shoulders and had made me mistake him for a girl the first time we met. That had been back in the Spring, when I was rotating on the Peds Pain service. He was on the oncology service, three years old and miserable, with a rapidly growing mediastinal mass. The last I had heard about him, he had been transferred to the ICU emergently and intubated. After that, I was off service for Peds Pain, but I had assumed, given the severity of his illness and the poor prognosis of his cancer, that he had died shortly thereafter.

However, there he was in the elevator with me, sitting up in his dad's arms, not only not dead but actually smiling and chattering, two things that I had never seen him do during the brief amount of time I had spent with him a few months ago. He was facing his father and with one finger reached up to touch his father's cheek, which bore a small nick from shaving.


BOY
Why you have ow?

FATHER
I have a cut.

BOY
We go down?

FATHER
You wanted to go get a snack, didn't you? So we're going to the lobby.

BOY
Here?

FATHER
No, this is the third floor, we need to go down two more floors.

BOY
Two more.

FATHER
That's right, baby.


The elevator doors opened and the two of them exited. I watched him go with the eyes of a doctor, noting his alopecia and weight loss, but also noting that he was out of his room without a mask or an IV pump, which boded movement in the right direction. But I also watched him with the eyes of a parent--it was almost impossible to listen to the two of them talking and not think about Cal--and those emotions were much more difficult to decipher. Did I feel glad to see that he was, at least for now, doing better? Sad to see a child so close in age to my own so seriously ill? Scared because here, in front of me, was proof that love can't protect your child from everything? Guilty because so far we've been lucky, whereas some other families have not been? It's difficult to say. Here, three days later, I'm still trying to figure it out.

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