Sunday, May 27, 2007

Dani turns 4

She woke up early this morning, excited. I could hear her going about her business from my room. Her mom did not have a hard time sending her to bed the previous night- a rare occurence i may say. She knew that today was going to be a big day. She was celebrating her 4th birthday at Chuck-e-cheese's with friends!

She wanted to go to her party as a princess, so she donned her yellow gown, the exact replica of Belle's from Beauty and the beast, complete with the beads and glitters and all. She never had the chance to wear it again - not that she did not want to. In fact, had she had her way, she'd wear it to school, to the mall, to the playground, but mom would hear nothing of it. But today was different. It was her big day. Her cake had a minature princess "Belle" on it too. She felt good in her golden gown with all the ruffles. She slipped her tiny feet into the golden shoes which her mom bought just to match the dress.

Though i did not see her do it, i'm sure she took out her barbie comb and blowdryer and did her hair before her mom put on her head band. I'm also quite sure she put on her barbie lip gloss told her dad about it when she had the time.

I was still in bed when they left for the party. I promised them i would be there when she blew her candles, how could i miss my love's 4th birthday? Her dad drives fast and i knew they would get there on time for the 10AM start. And i knew i needed to get moving also if i wanted to catch them. So i took a bath, and drove my car to the gas station for a full tank. And drove my fastest to reach the venue, with a mental picture of all the kids scurrying all around, and moms running after them.

I reached Chuck-E-Cheeses about half past ten. The place was deserted. i looked around and found them. Just the three of them. Her mom just shrugged, "nobody showed up".

I reached down and hugged my lovey trying to protect her from getting hurt. "I'm sure everybody's just late like me. Let's wait."

And wait we did, while the four year old was busy inserting her tokens into the machine and collecting her tickets, oblivous to what was happening. The staff already told us that we didn't have to pay for the party since there were no guests. Finally, we decided it was time to blow her candles. One staff member asked if we still wanted the mascot to come out. We sure did. So there we were, her mom and dad, a staff, and Chuck-E-Cheese himself, singing ang clapping happy birthday to our lovey, Dani, who, like all kids, found the mascot amusing.

There were 5 birthday celebrants that day, each with his/her own long table for her guests. The little girl in the next table was turning 5 and she was dressed as a ballerina - ballet shoes, tutu, and all (plus a tiara too). she had piles of gifts stacked on the end table. the other celebrants...well i didn't care about them. they had lots of guests.

Two hours later, while we were busy squandering all the tokens we had, a guest finally arrived! Ariana. She was accompanied by her dad who apologized for coming late because he had not had any sleep yet. they were the only people who showed up. after having pizza and cake, Dani grabbed Ariana's hand and off they went to enjoy the rest of the day together.

And so it was. A princess celebrated her fourth birthday with parents who love her so much, an uncle who dotes on her, a friend who did not let her down, and a giant mouse in place of a beast. I guess the fairy tale ended well.


Sunday, May 13, 2007

Happy Mothers' day

Call Pager beeps. Transfer from MICU.

9th floor. I peeked into the room and see this very thin woman with eyes bulging from their sockets, staring back at me. I smiled and waved. She just stared back.

Chart Review: Caucasian female in her 40s, dxed with Stage IV SCLC - lung cancer with metastasis. Presented to the Emergency Dept with shortness of breath and Oxygen sats in the lower 80s. Refused to be intubated. Was admitted to the ICU and kept on a rebreather and high dose steroids and antibiotics for the past week.

Everybody knew she wouldn't make it out of intensive care. The family was primed to expect the worst. She was a mess and she could go anytime, but her advance directives told us that she was a full code, meaning full interventions if she went into cardiopulmonary arrest. She wanted a full code despite knowing that she was in the terminal stage of her disease. She said she would fight death.

And she was here now, in a regular room, with only a nasal canula for oxygen supplementation.

When i walked up to her to introduce myself, i knew she would die under my care. She was so frail looking and her sternum was so deformed because of the bone mets. I began thiking, if she were to die on me, and she's full code, how can i possible do chest compressions ...."Hi, doctor, what's your name?", her voice snapped me out of my thoughts. It sounded strong and confident, something i never expected from her.

After the introductions, i asked her when exactly was she diagnosed with the cancer. She looked at me straight into my eyes and lifted her bony finger in front of my face. She said, "Doctor, i will not allow that word to be uttered in my room."

So be it. That was the last time i said the C word.

Everyday single day when i'd visit her, she'd stick out that same bony finger and tell me, "I'm going to be better and i'm getting out of this hospital to be with my children. I'm telling you, i'm not going to die yet, not this time, Doctor, not this time." To which i would reply, "Well, that's good to hear, Mrs. S." But in my coat pocket i always carried my Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) booklet because i feared she would arrest anytime.

One day, after telling me again that she wasn't gonna die on this admission, she asked me, "You don't believe me, do you? You dont' believe i'm going to make it out of this hospital alive." And she was expecting me to answer her question. Damn, they don't teach you this for the clinical skills exam. My mind racing for an answer, i say, "Miracles happen everyday, Mrs. S. We are all entitled to a miracle." She said, "You're right, doctor. But i know you don't believe me. And i'm gonna prove you wrong, just like i did to everybody."

When i walked out of her room that day I thought to myself, "Yes, Mrs. S. I'd like you to prove me wrong."


I met her 10 year old son and 11 year old daughter. Her daughter was finishing some puzzles while her son was seated on the couch. She said, "Come in, doctor, i'd like you to meet my kids." She introduced me to her daughter who was nice. Her son, however just bowed his head and looked at the floor when introduced to me.

When they left, Mrs. S. whispered to me, "I'm sorry, he's just a shy boy. But he's my baby. His uncle tells me he cries all the time but he has never cried in front of me. Even when he was a little boy, he hated it when i caught him crying. He knows i'm going to leave them soon but he doesn't understand why." Tears welled up in her eyes and the determined look in them that i was accustomed to, was gone. It was now replaced by a tired and resigned expression. She stared blankly at the door, her voice faltered, the air of confidence lost, "I promised him i was going to teach him how to drive. I was going to take them both driving. They're too young. I still need to teach him how to drive." Finally the tears rolled down her cheeks. For the first time i saw her as a mother, not a patient. "Now, doctor, you see why i can't die yet."


A few days later, i printed out her discharge summary, arranged an ambulance to take her wherever she wanted to go. With her kids. She proved me wrong.

Miracles do happen.

Happy mothers' day.

I took care of this patient in November of last year. I don't know what has happened to her since.
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