Maya Doesn’t Wanna Be The Letter C, And I Can’t Be The Catcher In The Rye

The first six years after medical school I spent in Pediatrics before I switched to adult Internal Medicine. Adult medicine is infinitely easier psychologically for me. When an adult dies it’s sad and hard, but when a child dies it’s unspeakably hard. In Pediatric Palliative Care we used to say we have no words for the loss of one’s child. If your parents die you’re an orphan, and if your spouse dies you’re a widow or a widower. If your child dies we don’t name it. It’s too painful and shaming.
I carry the babies and children who didn’t make with me like tattoos on my heart.
A more cheerful story of Pediatrics was when I was a Senior Resident in the Peds ER. Some poor mother was convinced her two year old daughter’s fever could be meningitis because another child at her school had viral meningitis, which by the way there’s no real treatment for. So our hardline Romanian Attending agreed to do a spinal tap on this otherwise happy little two year old. Her mother is asked to leave, the Residents assemble the tray and I’m tasked with holding little Maya.
“Maya, do you want to be the letter C?” I ask her cheerfully.
“No, I don’t like the letter C,” she wails.
The position to hold her for the spinal tap is called a C hold with her on her side curled up in a fetal position.
“How about the letter O?” I ask her.
“I don’t wanna be the letter O!” She wails.
“How about Q?” I ask.
“No, I don’t wanna be the letter Q,” she cries sounding very defeated.
“Maya honey, why are you crying?” I ask her.
“Because I have to go pee,” she says.
By now the Residents are in the middle of the spinal tap, and tubes of clear spinal fluid are being collected and I cannot let her move yet.
“Sweetheart, go ahead and pee,” I tell her, and she pees on me and the bed. As soon as she pees she’s calm.
All done, I stand her up and she hugs me round my neck with her little arms with warm soft tears on my chest and I hold her. I rock her back and forth and tell her how good and brave she’s been and how proud I am of her holding still.
They pull back the curtain and her mothers eyes say “Thank you.”
And I look back at her mother’s eyes and say without words “We got you. We’re good.”


May all beings be happy ♡