PICU Reflections

I spent two years working as a pediatric hospital chaplain and some of the deaths still haunt me. Today, I was reflecting on the beautiful, difficult and painful work of love which the staff of pediatric intensive care units undertake each and every day.

Please, don't scroll below the picture if reading about a child's death is going to bother you.

I never did find out how she died. She came in unresponsive and the incessant pounding of resuscitation was the only movement I ever saw. The bags of fluid gurgled in and then out as her lungs became fluid overloaded and her hair was coated with vomit and saline. Her skin was golden and then dusky and I was there when the light went out of her eyes and I knew that she was gone.

Yet, they pounded on...hoping against hope, straining for some miracle that they had long since ceased to believe in. I sat with her parents as they watched. Taking in the incomprehensible we huddled in the corner. She was gone and I knew, yet we prayed on.

Slowly they ceased, time of death was pronounced and the parents were ushered into a nearby room as tubes were pulled and clothes were found to bring dignity to her limp body. I promised to stay with her and held her shoulders so that the nurse could wash away the accumulated effluvia of death, life and hope.

She was clothed in a set of pink pajamas, her hair combed gently--as if she could still resist the pull of its teeth in her snarls and cry from the roughness. Her head rested on the pillow, and clean sheets lay beneath her. The gentleness of the nurses ministrations to her in death a stark contrast to the violence her body had taken in those last moments of life.

They had fought hard to keep her soul and body linked--but they were torn asunder and we were all left, breathless and limping, from the pain of it all.

Her death was not the only one that day--it was just the unexpected one, adding to the burden squirreled away in the horseshoe shaped halls of the pediatric intensive care unit.

I left. Many of them remain.


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