For as long as I can remember I’ve discussed aging and death with my father. We have very different views on it; something he thinks is explained by my young age and inexperience. He’s one of those who think that at some point we’ll find a cure for death (or aging) – and it can’t come fast enough! I’m one of those who can’t understand why we’d want to. Obviously I don’t “like” death, as you know I’m in the "cheating-death" kind of business. I do everything I can to prevent it, when that’s the reasonable thing to do, knowing that in the long run death always wins. In my way of thinking death is part of the deal, it’s natural and mostly not at all that dramatic. When you work with old and sick people death isn’t a far-fetched outcome, and as a professional you need to accept that.
The thing is I don’t work with old sick people. I work with young healthy people; kids and babies who aren’t even people yet – teeny humans who haven’t even gotten the chance to start. Here death as an outcome feels highly unacceptable, it feels unfair and like an extremely cruel unfunny joke – “here’s a new life, oops no, fooled you, I’ll keep this one!” Devastating and heartbreaking.
So having experienced that, can I still argue that death is part of the deal; that it’s ok and an outcome that you have to be prepared to handle? Of course I can, because that’s just the way it is, no matter how horrible and tragic it is when it happens, especially in a way that we normally would call prematurely and unexpectedly.
Ever since the first day I got called in to a complicated labour and felt the gut wrenching horror when a birth is accompanied by complete silence (and luckily quickly followed by a huge adrenalin kick on my part) I’ve felt an immense calmness when hearing a babies cry, a huge relief. It’s the babies way of saying I’m here and I’m fighting. That's the norm, that's the most likely outcome and it’s what everyone expects – but for me it’s a wonder, every single time.
People wonder how you can work in paediatrics having to accept that some children die. I always think that children die whether you work with it or not and not seeing it doesn’t make it go away. For me, the fact that some births are followed by silence actually makes the cries better, when one dies all the others that live feel like a huge gift. As long as that feeling can crawl it’s way through the “punch in the gut” feeling of loosing one I think I might be able to keep doing this job, that despite everything still is the most amazing, worthwhile job in the world. But damn, some days are hard.
Photos from here