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P&S Journal

P&S Journal: Fall 1996, Vol.16, No.3
Reader Essays: Invisible or Invincible?

By Dorothy Calabrese'76
Laguna Hills, Calif.
Dear Baby Caballo,

Do you remember your doctors from long ago?

I watched Dr. Harold Neu prepare your special lung cultures.

I hammered your reflexes until they were gone on Pediatric Neurology.

I carried mountains of your films to the view finder on Pediatric Radiology.

I watched Dr. Gersony futilely search for a vascular sling on Pediatric Cardiology.

I put a tube down your trachea during my rotation through the Babies Hospital ICU.

I learned firsthand how to use experimental drugs for little ones as desperate as you.

I listened to Drs. Davis and Feldman, the asthma-immunology team, order your sophisticated diagnostic tests.

I held retraction hooks on Pediatric Surgery for Dr. Jaretzki when he sawed open your chest.

You gave abundant clues to all of us. We knew your life was worth saving, but our eyes couldn't see the scientific pathway that defined your illness. No one could decipher the secrets of your code. A precious gift, you were born into our ICU. And there you stayed, month after month, no end in sight.

Was it 20 years ago when we first met? Impossible. Even today I recall how:

your lungs whistle and wheeze...

the wall oxygen bubbles and hisses...

Raggedy Andy reaches out to touch you...

your nurses' warm, kind hands cherish you...

the respirator makes your chest rise and sigh...

the IV pumps more hyperalimentation to nourish you...

your respiratory therapists pass chortling suction catheters...

your surgeon carefully replaces the central IV line to your heart...

all pediatric residents on call rush to you at the first syllable of Code Blue...

Whatever had made your breathing so labored was invisible to the superstars of your era, even to Dr. Blanc at your autopsy.

But what made you so invincible for so long?

Was it your Momma who sat beside you before her factory shifts each dawn? She fluffed your pillow so it caressed your head. And she combed your brown hair so the gentle curls bounced. Then she hummed Spanish lullabies as she held your tiny hand. You knew your Momma was there, didn't you?

Some said you didn't.

I never believed them.

At Christmas time, a news reporter asked your mother: "Why do you come here every day, when your child doesn't really know you're here?"

"It doesn't matter. I know I am here," your Momma said.

I think about you every evening now as I go to the refrigerator and take out the IV bottles for my own son, Andy.

Do you remember your doctors from long ago?

It doesn't matter. I know I was there.

Dr. Calabrese offered this "short essay from an upcoming book I am working on ["As Makes the Angels Weep," edited by Lou Stanek]. The patient was a Babies Hospital patient whose identity has been altered for confidentiality."

copyright ©, Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center

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