"Dr. Trevelyan-Grey please report to the ER… Dr. Trevelyan-Grey."
I had heard those words more times than I could count. Little did I know how that night, they would change my life….
I waited impatiently for my husband to answer the phone. Worry and anxiety coursing through my veins. I could almost hear my own heart pounding waiting for him to answer. "Hello Gracie! You on break already?" Oh thank God!
"Carry! Carry, I need you to do something for me, please?"
"Baby, is everything alright? You sound upset."
"Um, no… it's just… Carry, Please? Could you call my mother and have her watch Elliot for a couple hours? I need you down here, please?" I don't think I've ever asked him to come to the hospital in the nine years we'd been married. I don't want him to worry, but I don't even know how to organize my thoughts. "I'm OK. There's just a situation I need you to …. Carry please?"
"Of course Gracie. I'll be there as soon as I can, OK? I'll call your mom right now."
"Thank you. Thank you Carry. I love you." I hung up the phone and headed back to be with my patient; the reason for all my anxiety and concern. When I looked at him through the window in the door, I saw him hugging that awful, tattered, filthy blanket. He was so frightened, and flinched or jumped at every noise. But when I walked back into the room and he looked at me, I could see him relax, at least a little.
"Can I take that blanket? I could get it washed for you. It will be much better." I saw those large gray eyes widen in fear and he just hugged even tighter. "It's OK. I won't. Can I listen to your heart again? You can listen first if you'd like." I held out the stethoscope and he put it in his ears. Then he put it up to his chest. A look of wonder came over his face as he heard his own heartbeat. Then he looked at me and held it up to me. "Do you want to hear my heart too? Is that what you want?" He looked at me nervously then very cautiously nodded his little head of copper colored hair.
I held the stethoscope up to my chest so he could hear my heartbeat. I almost saw a smile cross his lips. But almost as if he felt what he was doing was wrong, he quickly took it off and handed it back to me. "It's OK. You're alright. I need to listen to your heart now." I leaned in to place it on his chest but he squealed and moved back. "I need to. How about you hold it, and I'll just listen." He nodded again and held it up to his chest. "Sounds good! Now I need to use the arm sweezey. This tells me something called your blood pressure. It squeezes, but only your arm. Can I see your arm please?" He slowly put his thin, bruised arm out to me. That went off without too much issue, just a scrunched up face when the cuff got tight.
The nurse came in then to reapply the bandages to his back and chest. That wasn't so easy. He pulled away, screamed, even tried to get off the bed. I tried reasoning with him. If that didn't work, I'd have to sedate him. "We're here to help you. We're going to make it feel better. OK? How about you hold my fingers… you can squeeze as tight as you want." I held my fingers out to him. He grabbed one finger with each hand and squeezed for dear life. That was the longest three minutes… He was so scared and the redness in my two fingers could attest to that. "OK. Well little man, it's getting late and it's time for you to get some sleep."
I don't think I've ever seen a child so afraid of going to sleep. He grabbed that blanket as if his life depended on it, and gave me such a worried look… I said something I've never said to any other patient of mine, of course usually their parents were right there with them. "How about I lay down with you?" He slowly laid back and watched as I laid down too. I knew it would be inappropriate so I didn't, but I really wanted to just cuddle him close. This poor, sad, abused little boy. I didn't even know what to call him. The police didn't have a name yet and this little guy hadn't spoken all afternoon.
Within moments, he was sound asleep. I had to wonder when the last time was he had a safe night's sleep. From our examination earlier today, this poor thing had endured some horrible abuse. And now, his mother was dead. I'm not even sure if he knows that. How do you explain something like that to a child this young? How old is he anyway? He looks like he's only two or maybe three, but he definitely comprehends more like a four or five year old.
I carefully moved off the bed to leave the room. In the hallway I saw Carrick. "Oh, Carry! When did you get here?"
"Only about 15 minutes ago. The nurse said you were with a patient so I waited here. Grace, what's going on? What was that call about?"
"Ellen," I called to the resident, "I'm going to dinner. Page me if he wakes up, OK?" I took Carrick's hand and headed to the elevators, trying to wipe away the tears as all my emotions bubbled up inside. We got to the cafeteria, got something to eat, and I chose a secluded booth so we could talk.
"Carrick, I experienced something today I have never experienced in my career before. Working in the ER, I have seen patients with some serious injuries and even evidence of physical abuse. I've had to deny parents the right to take their children home because of the abuse I examined. But today…I saw an abuse case that hit me very differently… When I examined this patient he was severely malnourished and dehydrated. There are bruises on his arms, shoulders, chest and back… But the worst…" My heart was aching. It was all I could do to hold back the tears and get the words out. "Carry, someone burned this poor baby with cigarettes…. seven burn marks on his chest… nine on his back. Some have scabbed over, some are even scars already, but several are fresh. This was an on-going thing! I'm telling you this because I want you to do something for me… This is going to go into the legal system. He was found with his mother's dead body. Police think she died about four days ago… Will you please take his case? It could be pro bono. Someone's going to get it assigned to them, so could it please be you? Will you please do this for me?"
Carrick took my hands in his and looked at me with such care and love. "Gracie, you know I would do anything for you. But Baby, I'm not a juvenile attorney. I don't think Friend of the Court would even consider me. I can make some calls, but I can't promise anything. I'm not even sure I'd be the right guy for the job. Why is this so important to you?"
"I love every child I ever treat. It's what makes people become pediatricians; we love kids, and taking care of them. When we witness child abuse, it makes us angry, and we want to keep those little people safe… But today was different. I wasn't just angry. I didn't just want to comfort this little boy, I wanted to hold him. I looked at him and I felt like someone had hurt… Someone had hurt my little boy."
"I can understand that. You felt angry like you would if someone did that to Elliot. I would be too, Baby."
I shook my head slowly and nervously. He wasn't understanding what I was saying. I didn't understand this myself… "No. Someone did this to my baby… I wanted to hold him and comfort him like he himself, was mine." Carrick wouldn't say anything. " His mother is dead, there is no father, he's going to go into the system…" I took a deep breath to keep myself from breaking down. " I want him Carry."
Carrick looked at me with fear and uncertainty. We had discussed adopting more children and were already in the system to get another child. But, we never discussed it happening like this. I know that's what he was thinking…. 'If we do this, how many more charity cases would Gracie be bringing home?' "Will you just come up and see him? Please?"
Carrick nodded and we headed back up to the room. On the way, my pager went off. I knew he had awakened. I looked in through the window and he was sitting up holding that blanket. "Hey there little guy. You're supposed to be asleep." I walked in the room and stood at the side of the bed. He just looked up at me with fear. "It's OK. I'm right here. I'd like to introduce you to someone. This is my friend Carry. Can you say hello?" It was worth a shot.
He turned toward Carrick and looked at him. I wouldn't have thought it was possible, but he looked even more frightened than before. My wonderful husband didn't miss a beat. "Hey there buddy. Nice to meet you. Can I sit down on your bed? I won't hurt you. I promise. I'm a friend of Dr. Grace here." Bless him. Carry waited until he got a slight nod. "Is that your blankie? I had one when I was little too. Mine was blue and had rabbits on it. I took mine everywhere with me. I'll bet you like having yours with you too, don't ya?" Again he gave a copper haired nod. "Well, it's late and I know Dr. Grace wants you to get some sleep. Would it be OK if I came by tomorrow?" Another nod. "OK. You sleep and I'll see you in the morning." He turned to me, "Grace? I'll be outside." With that, Carrick left the room.
I turned to my little gray-eyed boy and had to keep myself from leaning down to kiss him on the head. "You get back to sleep. I'll be here in the morning." He laid back and closed his eyes. I left the room to find Carrick down the hall on the phone.
"…I know it's late, but I needed to get it on record… There is a juvenile case coming in probably tomorrow…. Orphaned boy, physical abuse, brought into the hospital tonight… I'm putting my name in to take his case."