Back in 2008, I deployed to Iraq. I remember standing by two of the older nurses (they were in their 40s, I was 22) as a young soldier was worked on. Unfortunately, the soldier died, and he was the first soldier I ever saw die there. I remember feeling so numb to it. In my mind, I was perfect for our task at hand because I was able to detach so well emotionally. One of the nurses teared up and mentioned how terrible it would be to be his mother and get the news that her son died. Of course, my naive, 22 year old self, was thinking, Why would she even think about his mother back at home? That’s too depressing!
I was able to see soldiers over there as a task, not really as people. The first time it really hit me that these people had lives at home outside of our life in Iraq was when I was in Baghdad for a month and a 19 year old boy came in. He had been hit by an IED and had shrapnel to both of his legs. The surgeon came in and told him that they’d be taking him for surgery in a minute, but that he wanted to let him know that he would probably wake up without either of his legs. Can you imagine that? Being told you would wake up without legs? Especially because his legs looked pretty good still, but the surgeon thought the shrapnel probably did too much internal damage to repair.
Another time in Baghdad, we were logrolling another patient to check his back. He had also been hit by an IED. As we rolled him, I held onto his feet. His feet were literally barely even attached to his legs anymore. I guarantee that ended up in an amputation, if that soldier even made it.
Aside from a few “real” moments though, I still stayed detached. There was no family rushing in the room. The soldiers didn’t say much, or were trauma patients who went off to the OR after we stabilized them.
When I got home, I worked as a tech on a medical-surgical floor (the same place I just recently worked as a nurse). I remember having a patient who was 43 and had breast cancer. When I got to work, I didn’t really realize the patient was going to die that day. I knew she was lifeless, but I had no idea that her life was actually about to end. Her husband was such a kind man. He didn’t want to leave her side to go get anything to eat because he knew this was the last bit of time he would have with her. As we changed her diaper multiple times, he stayed and held her hand. While I was cleaning her up, he said, “Isn’t she the most beautiful woman you have ever seen?” She died halfway through my shift and that was the first time it really hit me that I take care of people.
I have seen more people die than I could count. I see people who were healthy and running around an hour before they arrived to our ER die. I never take my health or the health of my family for granted. I know tomorrow isn’t promised. I think about it on a daily basis. Every time I get in the car, I think that it could be the last time I get in my car. When Jon leaves, especially if he has Jackson, I know my whole life is in one car. When I am sitting with my parents, I think about how I never know if something terrible will happen and they’ll be gone before I know it.
But being a mom… Well, this is something new, and something even more terrifying. I knew when I was pregnant that it would be awful if anything happened to Jackson. I would cry very frequently in the car if I thought about him not being born healthy or if he was born in a way that would prevent him from happiness in the future. I never actually thought about him not coming home from the hospital with me. Sadly, after talking to other moms and being part of mom groups online, I realize how many moms are out there who didn’t take their babies home. They had NICU babies or worse, their babies didn’t make it home alive. I have seen parents in the ER whose babies have died from SIDS or suffocation. I’ve watched parents cry over their child who is in critical condition, or who they found already dead in their crib. I’ve read about parents who lost their children in car accidents, or I’ve seen them come in as our trauma patient.
I recently read a blog written be a pediatric ICU nurse. She was talking about how she thought her patient would be discharged that day, but came to work and found out that the patient had died the night before. The child’s parents were still in the room, holding their dead baby, when the nurse went in to see them.
I watched my best friend’s parents leave the hospital after we said goodbye to their daughter. Walking out of the hospital, her mom was crying to her dad, “I just have to go back and see her one more time!” When I go to her house, I still hear her parents talk about when their daughter, the one they never got to see live past 19, was a child.
When you become a parent, you feel emotions you have never felt before and could probably never even begin to imagine feeling. Every kid who has died could have been Jackson. Every kid who has cancer could be Jackson. I could be mourning the loss of my child. I know why that nurse in Iraq was thinking about what the boy’s parents would feel when they found out their son was dead. Because every child could be your own. You could be the one to get the bad news.
Even though I may not feel overwhelmed by love for my child on a daily basis, I know that if anything happened to him, it would turn my life upside down. I already dread the years where his feelings get hurt or he gets his heart broken. I dread the things I can’t control or fix in his life- when Mom can’t make everything better. I just hope that my son lives a long, healthy life, because I don’t know how I could bear anything bad happening to my child. Being a mother gives me a whole new perspective on life and all the lives I’ve seen pass by me in the ER.