Somebody’s Child

When my kids were in elementary school, I worked as a medical assistant in an Internal Medicine office.  I loved my work, but I was always reluctant to be around patients with communicable diseases. This was largely due to the fact that my youngest daughter, Elizabeth, had serious chronic illnesses that often landed her in the hospital.  A simple twenty-four hour stomach virus was sure to have repercussions that lasted at least a week.  It was imperative that I avoided bringing home germs that could trigger another round of illness and hospitalization.

One morning, a new patient was put into the schedule.  Her complaints were my two least favorite illnesses; vomiting and diarrhea.  I escorted her to the room, all the time silently repeating, “Just get the vital signs and get out of there!  Just get the vital signs and get out of there!”

She told me her name was Rachel Scabbard *and she had recently been discharged from the hospital.  While I wrapped the blood pressure cuff around her arm, I asked why she had been hospitalized. 

 “I ate batteries.”

“Oh great,” I thought.  “Not only is she contagious, but she eats batteries.  Just get the vital signs and get out of here!”

Rachel silently sat in the chair as I pumped the cuff.  I stole a glance at her yellowed hair and lined face.  She was in her fifties, but looked much older, probably because she was missing several teeth.

I tried to concentrate on her blood pressure,  but all I could think of was, “Just get the vital signs and get out of here!” 

As I turned the screw to release the air from the blood pressure cuff, my plan for escape was interrupted by a sudden revelation.

Rachel Scabbard was somebody’s little girl.

I thought of my own Elizabeth, painfully thin, dark circles shadowing her eyes, struggling to celebrate the innocence of a child in the world of hospitals and doctor’s offices.  I loved her more than my own life.  When her vital signs were taken, when her blood was drawn, when she was poked and manipulated, I hovered close at hand, determined to make sure she was treated in the kindest, most gentle way possible.  I stood sentry over her bed while she slept, and rocked her in my arms and sang to her when she could not.  I questioned doctors, challenged nurses, and charged through walls of rules and policies.  I did this because she was my flesh.  My child.  My little girl.

Rachel Scabbard was somebody’s little girl.

I wondered if Rachel’s mother had agonized over her child’s illness.  Had she lain awake at night like I had, wondering what she did wrong… what she could have differently to spare her little girl?  Had Rachel’s mother looked at her newborn baby girl and thought “This is the most beautiful child in the world.  I would throw myself in front of a bus for her,” the way I had?

Rachel Scabbard was somebody’s little girl.

How could I give Rachel Scabbard less than my little Elizabeth deserved?  How could I treat another mother’s child any differently than I treated my own?  How could I give her less than my kindest, most caring, best efforts?

 Rachel was a patient in that practice for years after that.  She was difficult, non compliant, and often rude.  But the gift she gave me is priceless.   In the time it takes to measure a blood pressure, my approach to health care was forever changed.  In fact, in those few moments, my approach to life was forever changed.   No longer would “just getting the vital signs and get out of here” be good enough. 

For we are all somebody’s child.

*Of course this name is fictitious, in order to protect the patient’s privacy.

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