Pediatric Intensive Care: Beeps, Rings and Clowns

“I’ve never been sued, but many of colleagues have,” was how the stout Indian doctor’s introduced himself during morning rounds in Pediatric Intensive Care (PICU).

Savannah was admitted to PICU the previous morning following a seizure and today was rigged with more contraptions than a West Bank suicide bomber.  Shaken, after having witnessed a 5-week-old’s manic eye rolling, I was a wreck.

His remark, while odd, was revealing and underscored how doctors, especially those working the PICU Twilight Zone, perceive parents.

Encaged behind heavy white doors, PICU is often sectioned off in its own special corner of the hospital.  There’s an uncomfortable stillness in the air, only interrupted by the beeps and rings of modern medicine.

Some doctors try to lighten the mood by wearing Looney Tune ties and being overly friendly, “How we doing today, mom?”  The more cerebral types adhere to medical jargon, hoping to deter inquisitive parents.  Others, such as the Indian doctor, go Bill Clinton-at-the-site-of-a-disaster-mode, lending bear hugs and spilling personal details.

“He and some of his friends sneaked out one night and decided to go joy riding, and…,” he said, following his introduction, and trailing off before he could finish the story of his 16-year-old son’s fatal car wreck.

The good hospitals compensate for the situation by offering a bottomless pit of toys, movies and entertainment.  While appreciated, something about musicians and clowns in the children’s ward reeks Titanic.  I’ll often shoot them a look that warns Savannah’s bed is a no play zone.

Still, chances are I’ll have more encounters with musicians. Savannah, being cortisol deficient, is prone to adrenal crashes so can – and has – landed in PICU with no advance warning.  Yet, so can any kid, really.  Behind those heavy white doors are endless reminders that life is fragile, and can be taken without notice, as the Indian doctor can attest.

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