Friday, October 10, 2008


I knew I’d see tragedy at some point during this pediatrics rotation. The innocence that smiles back at me each day combined with the many evils of this fallen world make for some predictability in the destruction of livelihood experienced by some of this world’s youngest.

It is hard to imagine such destruction here. In this country, full of medical technology and a justice system that although somewhat flawed keeps most child predators behind bars. But the destruction exits. And about a week ago, its hard-knock evidence walked right into my exam room.

My preceptor warned me before I went into the room. But I wasn’t prepared for what I was about to see. How could I be? My mind couldn’t fathom the actions taken against an innocent child by a grown, supposedly-loving parent.

He was just over 6 weeks old. The grandmother held him close, protected from the critical eyes of the world by a blue polka dot blanket. I noticed on his chart that he was well underweight for an infant of his age. He didn’t cry. Didn’t grunt. And in fact, had it been on a busy street instead of in a pediatrician’s office, I might have guessed Grandma was holding a doll.

But she certainly was not.

I asked her to put him on the orange exam table so I could better look at him. And as soon as his head popped out of the polka dotted blanket, I knew that this child was different. Not born different; born quite perfect, in fact. A premature entrance into the world by about 2 weeks, his lungs first inflated when he was just over six pounds. His head was speckled with chestnut colored hair, APGAR scores were above 8; just a short stint in the nursery brought him into the arms of his parents at home.

Most babies are loved from the minute they take their first breath; I’ll be bold enough to assume this innocent little boy was as well. Most are doted over, caressed, and comforted; and the fortunate ones are kept clean, warm, and well fed. I can’t imagine life with a newborn—but when the time finally rounds the bend for us, I’m not expecting it to be a walk in the park. Parents have every right to get frustrated, exhausted, and overwhelmed.

Which, for as much as I can assume, his parents did. But someone, one of the ones that was supposed to be doting and loving and care-giving, crossed a line. Something must have snapped. And it only took three seconds to change this child’s life forever.

He lay restless on the exam table. His unfocused “doll eyes” rolled backwards as I tried to get him to follow my dark figure against the bright light. The beginnings of hydrocephalus were evident from his very large, overly rounded head. Reflexes hypertonic. Neck flaccid. Abdomen protuberant. At over 6 weeks of age, he was the size of a small newborn. He didn’t exhibit the typical suckling reflex, nor did he turn his head toward stimulus. On the orange exam table that seem to envelop him in a color too bright for the dreary world he would live in, he seemed as small as a child’s teddybear. And as he lay there, flaccid & non-responsive, I couldn’t help but think about how he might have been just a few weeks earlier—the happy, normally developing baby he was discharged from the hospital as.

He was shaken. At just a few weeks of age, someone close to him stole his ability to develop as a normal child—stole his ability to see, eat normally, control defecation. He suffered numerous seizures, one lasting over 20 minutes. There were 6 spots in his brain that showed active bleeds on the CT scan. And even a few weeks after the incident, rib fractures were still detected on chest xray.

Shaken Baby Syndrome is something I’m only supposed to read about in textbooks. The retinal detachment. Increased seizure activity. Whiplash. Hypertonicity. Poor feeding habits. Altered growth patterns. It is something that only happens to the “worst” babies, right? Something that doesn’t happen in my neighborhood, to the children born healthy with full potential to someday change the world?

But the little boy that lay before me had taken the brunt of the world’s tendency toward evil. And even in five years, he will likely still have the developmental level of a 9 month old—if that. And in ten years, he will still be wearing diapers and eating pureed food from the hand of someone who will hopefully love him.

Despite the tradgedy that literally rocked his world, I have to remember that jesus loves him. That God has a plan for his life. And that He still works miracles. This little boy will likely never speak full sentences and the chances of him walking unassisted are slim. But in a world strewn with misfits and sinners, his physical limitations will forever be a reminder that this Earth is not our home. The braces that may someday encompass his legs will be cast off. The blurred vision will someday become clear. And the broken & betrayed heart will someday again be made whole.

Just wait, little child, just wait.


joyfuliving said...

make me cry all over again...

Anonymous said...

Dear Jlyn: As we sit here and read together your world and all that is in it, we both pray that this boy, as you have stated is loved by Jesus and one day His testimony will be brought out in this child, to someone we don't even know...perhaps his parents. Wish we could share the same hug space with you now. Love, Gusty & Ray

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