Teddies and Elephants and Tears
Today for some reason I went to check out the Mothers in Medicine group blog that I used to write for, and I was kind of shocked to discover that it doesn’t exist anymore. It had been a pretty unique creative space for doctor-moms to share their experiences. I was bummed. Luckily, I had saved my sixty-or-so posts in a separate file. Sooo, in honor of all those early years learning how to navigate a medical career and motherhood at the same time, I’m reviving one of my personal favorites. This simple little piece was originally posted on the Mothers in Medicine website on October 11, 2011. And by way of explanation, when I wrote this piece I was also very pregnant with my second baby. Hence all the tears, I suspect…
Today I had one of those unexpectedly gut-wrenching experiences, as I was waiting for the elevator on one of the medical floors, the one that looks out onto the Helipad.
I’m always amazed that the pilot can land a helicopter full of bustling paramedics and a (usually) severely injured patient on this relatively tiny piece of rooftop. I had finished rounding on our inpatients, and I wasn’t in a hurry to get anywhere, so I walked to the window, and watched.
It was a beautiful clear day, and the large window is fairly close to the landing pad. The helicopter had just landed and the crew was pulling out the stretcher. There was a carseat on it, with a very awake and scared toddler strapped in, clutching a teddy bear. He wasn’t crying; he was craning his head this way and that, looking around, probably for his mom or dad, but it was only uniformed crew members around him. I could even see that his teddy was kind of worn, and lopsided, like it’d been washed. As the crews started wheeling the stretcher towards the doors, the teddy started to fall, and the toddler frantically grasped at it; there was a flash of panic in his already terrified eyes. But a crew member stopped the stretcher and planted the teddy firmly in the boy’s arms before continuing, and the boy clutched at that teddy for dear life.
In the space of those few seconds, I not only wondered, I wanted to know how hurt the toddler was, or if he’d been airlifted as a precaution, or where his parents were? What happened, how bad was the accident? Were his parents OK?
And I thought of my toddler at home, just starting to get attached to his own Teddy; just starting to realize when we leave and when we come home. Lately he cries around strangers and clings to us… I imagined him in a carseat strapped to a stretcher and airlifted to a rooftop trauma center somewhere. Would a crew member be so kind as to make sure his Teddy didn’t fall out of his arms? And I pretty much almost lost it right there. My eyes blurred with tears, and I would have started bawling, but the “ding” of the elevator arriving made me pull it together.
The elevator doors opened but I still watched as the crew wheeled the baby in the carseat out of sight, my eyes welling with tears.
Then I realized that there was lady standing inside the elevator, waiting for me to get on; I think she was kind of annoyed. I also realized that I looked like I was about to cry. I felt the need to offer some sort of explanation, so as I stepped on, I murmured, “Sorry, the helicopter just landed, and it was a baby.”
“Oh!” she said, her face softening. “Oh, that is very sad, you always wonder what happened…” and when she got off, she smiled and said, “Take care.”
All day the image of the baby in the carseat, the flash of panic, the grasping for teddy, the crew member placing the teddy in his arms… all day this has been with me and all day I have been just on the verge of tears.
And at the end of the day, as I was walking to my car, again thinking of this, and reflecting on how lucky we are, and how anything can happen to us at any time, I saw elephants. I mean, real elephants.
Apparently, the circus is in town, and they were unloading the elephants from the trucks to the stadium. The stadium is right near my parking lot, and I got quite a show: Three elephants marching up the long ramp to the delivery bay, each one holding the tail of the one in front of it with their trunks, so adorable. They weren’t very large elephants, must have been Indian elephants, if I’ve learned anything from Animal Planet.
There were many people who had stopped to watch this spectacle, including some moms with babies in strollers. And I again thought of my toddler at home. He would have got such a kick out of this. He loves animals. I teared up again, but this time a smiling-tearing-up, looking forward with hope, instead of being stuck in this sort of existential anxiety.
Someday, I thought, we’ll take him to the circus.
Like a switch was flipped, my mind went to happy planning. And then on the ride home, on how to write it all down.