This photo gives me chills. Not just because the work is so exacting, or because the tiny patient pictured is probably chilled down to 64 degrees Fahrenheit to protect his or her brain and other vital organs while under complete circulation arrest. It gives me chills because it happened to me, or practically did. My son was in that spot, and I couldn’t or wouldn’t let myself think about it much. As I’ve found myself thawing a bit recently, and facing the question of one of our doctors, “are you glad you brought your son home?,” I realized that I needed to travel back through the shock and revisit those difficult days– I needed to face the reality that I lived.
So, 18 months later, I read Michael Ruhlman’s amazing book on the cardiac team at Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. It’s a great insider perspective of an elite pediatric cardiac team, a powerful tribute to their devotion and skill, an empathetic look at the patients and families involved, and an insightful investigation of the ethical and social issues involved in these medical interventions. Dr. Mee, the chief surgeon profiled in this book, is a colleague of our son’s surgeon, having trained together in Australia. It was difficult in places, to realize what that surgery entailed, and to remember the extended recovery afterward. What was worse was reliving the last few days of his life, when his cardiovascular functions began to decrease, and when our cardiologist’s calm began to crack. And of course it was physically painful to remember that last night, and the code, and the way his body cooled so quickly after he died.
It sounds harsh, and I guess it is. But my reading this book seems only fair to my son, who experienced all of it firsthand. What Will endured was harsh beyond the telling, and I’m left to hope that our choice in saving his life was the best one. That our love for him was altruistic, and not selfish. That all of us did right by our Will.