I went to the pediatric intensive care unit at Maine Medical Center last week.
Considering I have no medical training, I have spent way too many days saying goodbye to dying kids.
My two years as director of Eastern Maine Healthcare’s Children’s Miracle Network felt like 10 when I was sitting with children so ill or injured that I would be one of the last people they ever saw.
I have the bracelet that one love of my life, Arian Haghkerdar, wore until she died in 1996. I’ve worn it ever since.
I don’t know how the doctors and nurses do it. Saving some lives can only blunt the pain of knowing another kid’s lost his or her battle.
You can squash the anguish down, but it never goes away. The very next time you walk into a dying kid’s room, a new hurt rises in your chest refreshing all the old stale pain that had settled deep down in your heart.
How many years did I carry the pictures of kids who had died on my watch? I can’t remember anymore. But walking into that intensive care unit Thursday reminded me that that’s what I used to do.
Once you’ve had a job like that, you never get over it. People know you care and when they call, begging you to help their child, you can’t say, “Promise me a miracle and I’ll come. But my broken heart can’t watch yours break, too. I’m only holding this one together by forgetting that the fight to save children continues without me.”
I can’t say that, so I just do my best to help.
When the call came for this particular kid, the family had simple needs that were easy for me to address. They needed heating oil, school supplies, and the boy wanted to take a schooner ride before he died.
See, I know big-hearted souls who will do anything I ask them to if it’s to help a child.
But like a fool, I fell in love with this boy, too. And last week I had to suck it up and overcome my despair so that I could stand by his bed and hold his hand. The clock was ticking away the hours of his life. His medical team was now as helpless as the rest of us. Soon he’d have been on the respirator too long and they’d have to give up.
His mom sat vigil.
Moms of dying children go a special kind of crazy. They have a measure of courage that is only surpassed by their denial. But without that brave face their kids might see fear in their eyes. And the torture of her child dying afraid is the one thing a mom can’t allow.
But you can help. You don’t have much, I know. And times are tough and getting tougher. And you have your own kids to worry about.
I mean after you’re gone. Oh sure, the family Bible or your wedding ring or Nana’s handmade quilt: all that stuff sill will go to your family when you die.
I’m not talking about those things.
There are gifts you can give that won’t cost you a penny. You already have them and you can keep them until you’re done with them. They’re presents like the one my young friend in the intensive care needed so desperately.
The National Center for Health statistics says that about 120,000 of us will die accidentally this year. And the stats available through the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network say that about 80,000 people are waiting for — and many will never get — an donated organ.
Somebody died Saturday. No, it wasn’t my friend. It was some thoughtful person who turned his or her own tragedy into our joy. Some kind soul signed up to be an organ donor in the event of an unforeseen calamity and now his or her lungs are breathing in this kid’s chest.
By signing up to be an organ donor — by talking to your family about it now so that they can respect your wishes when you’re gone — you could do the one thing most of us never get to do while we are alive. You could save a life.
Pat LaMarche of Yarmouth is the author of “Left Out In America: The State of Homelessness in the United States.” She may be reached at PatLaMarche@hotmail.com.