Sunday, May 25, 2008

A Different Kind of Memorial Day

This is Memorial Day weekend. Now, I know Memorial Day is a day to remember soldiers who gave their lives for our country. But earlier this week, I had the opportunity to attend a different kind of memorial.

Every year the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center has a tribute service for children who have lost their lives while under our care. In recent years, this has been coordinated by the Harriet Lane Compassionate Care program, a group dedicated to enhancing end-of-life care at our hospital and to providing ongoing bereavement counseling and support to the families who have lost children.

This is always a moving experience. As you can see from the program, there is a keynote speaker. Mrs. Wandishin, who gave the address this year, is phenomenal. She was a dedicated mother to her child who died of leukemia. She is an exceptional public speaker, having taken her grief and transformed it into strength, which she now shares with other grieving parents, and with health care providers in training.

There was music, provided by a doctor and nurses who are my colleagues. I’m awed by their talent, both for music and for medicine.

The most touching part of the evening, though, was the reception afterwards. This provided a low-key opportunity to renew the bonds between us (caregivers) and the families. The mother and sister of this patient were both there, and it was great to talk to them again. I also caught up with parents of children I took care of years ago. It was from those encounters that I learned what I think is the most important lesson of the evening.

Parents of children who die often worry that their kids will be forgotten. I remember every child whose parent came to the tribute service. Parents: Your children are NOT forgotten. Taking care of them has a profound impact on our lives, and we do not forget.

By the same token, caregivers in the hospital often underestimate the impact we have in our patients’ lives. More than one family told me that they pray for me and for my colleagues every day. It’s humbling to realize that, 5 years after the loss of their child, a family could still find it in their hearts to pray for strength for me… every day. And could still thank me for all that I did. So, for the young or in-training doctors, nurses, child life specialists, social workers, and other caregivers who might read this blog:

Never underestimate how strong an impact you have on the lives of the patients in your care. And never forget what an honor it is to do the jobs we do.

Related Posts:
Giving Bad News Without Destroying Hope
When My Patients Die

Look here for online resources for grieving parents.


Dr. Smak said...

What a heartfelt, touching ceremony.

jaime said...

I couldn't have said it better myself - yet one more reason I am so happy to be in this field - for an opportunity like this. Really, you exemplify the doctor I would love to become.

Dreaming again said...

We share a few blog friends.

What an amazing career you have.

My best friend lost her daughter to an ATRT tumor. It was a difficult experience but it has left her stronger, and more determined. She's no in school studying to become an oncology nurse.

The lives the little girl (just 2 when she passsed away) was a remarkable little girl whose courage surpassed that of any adult I'd ever met, the smile never left her face.

As tragic as the whole experience was, it also left us all knowing that we all had more strength than we ever knew had ever had.

Anonymous said...

How moving. Just reading this has brought memories of many faces and families that I've met during my nursing career. I remember the thank you's, but rarely have had such an opportunity to renew the bonds that are established during a patient's illness. Bless you.

Doctor David said...

Thank you all for your comments.

Lindsay said...

I think maybe that is why I'm so excited to go into this field, because being a patient myself, I can connect to patients in a way not everyone can. Sounds like it was a lovely evening, I took a class on end of life care, it is more complex than people realize! You know this more than anyone. Take care!

Doctor David said...

Lindsay, you're absolutely right, being a patient gives you insight none of us have. Your patients will be lucky to have you on their team! Thank you for being a loyal reader!

Anonymous said...


It is a great post and I like it.And appriciate it also.

Susan said...

Thank you Doc,

I'm so touched as I read your blog and many posts.

As a parent of a child with a brain tumor it means the world to me.

We've lost so many friends in the battle, and what brings the most comfort to these families is the fact their child is remembered.

I pray the Lord will continue to give the compassion you have. It is so rare.

You are being used in more way then you can ever imagine!

You remind me of Dr.Fred Epstein in many ways.

Blessings to you and your family♥

Doctor David said...

Susan, thank you so much for your very kind words!

Dragonfly said...

That was beautiful. Thank you for sharing that. It just reinforces why paeds oncology/palliative care or working with other chronic diseases like cystic fibrosis and cerebral palsy is what I feel called to do (well, this rotation anyway:-)).

Doctor David said...

Thanks for the kind words. It's great to keep finding things you feel called to do! Good luck with your training.

Kim said...

I don't get all choked up in a Starbucks very often, but there is always a first time and this is it.

Thanks so much for sharing, and for the message at the end of your post.