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Monday, February 02, 2015

mourning and singing

Sitting in the ICU, entering baby G's death into the database.  The clinical facts belie the anguish of yesterday.  10 days old.  Severe infection, acid accumulating from poor perfusion, dehydration, seizures, struggle.  Yesterday at 5 pm I was sitting on this very bench to tell G's parents that he had died in the operating theatre where we had taken him to get a central line.  Fifteen minutes earlier I had been called by the surgeon to say that they were giving up on the procedure, and as I talked I realized they were telling me that they had stopped resuscitating the child.  I rushed there to find the head anesthesiologist walking away, G's stiff cool pale body bruised and still. Failure.  His mother has two teens, but has now lost three infants in a row, at 1, 5, and 1.5 weeks of age, over the last five years.

The surgeon calmly and kindly explained what had happened in the theatre, how his heart had slowed and stopped, how they had struggled over and over to bring him back, the medicines they had given.  "Oh, Jesus, WHY?" his mother wailed.  "Why me?"  She collapsed onto the floor in agony.  Those moments are the hardest for me.  I had seen the baby that morning and recognized his condition was potentially fatal, in spite of lots of fluids and antibiotics over the 36 hours he'd been admitted in the nursery. We had brought him to ICU, increased his respiratory support, adjusted his antibiotics and fluids, added another antiviral drug, checked an arterial blood gas, arranged for a donor to give blood, and for a more reliable IV line to give it.  I honestly thought we were going to save him, because he was responding to the therapy, his kidneys starting to work.  So the surgeon's call and the mother's grief knocked the wind out of me too.  What do you say to a woman who is crying over the third infant to die in a row?

This is a point of weakness, emptiness, wordlessness.  I held her hand, rubbed her back, talked to her, prayed for her.  Then the words I had read that very morning came back to me, from Hebrews 2.  Jesus shared in our flesh and blood, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.  Jesus walked right here, in this situation of heartrending loss, of years of anxious fear in facing multiple deaths.  And he did it in order to destroy death itself.

 Today as I enter the codes in each column, I hear angelic singing from outside my window, the harmony of hymns in Kenyan voices.  I am near the School of Nursing, and they took exams last week, so I look out expecting a graduation.  Instead I see a funeral, clusters of people standing near the morgue, singing.

The paradox, mourning and singing, all at once.  Death conquered, death present.  Jesus near the brokenhearted, but the hearts still broken.  Eternal truth of hope and reunion and coming home, but a present ache and loss all the same.

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