"The Baby" by Sidney Castiblanco
6:00 am. My pager goes off. Every Sunday I had to sign in for a volunteer shift as an EMT for the Ridge Fire Department. At the firehouse, after our first call, Joe and Pete, some of my crew guys, told me that they were going home to take a break, so Jimmy and I stayed to get everything ready for the next call. The events that happened next, I remember them like they happened yesterday…
I’m in the back of the ambulance cleaning the passenger compartment, while Jimmy is doing breakfast. It is about 8:15 am, our station phone is going off and no one is picking up the line. Jimmy gets up from the break room and picks up line 2.
“Ridge FD CO 2, how can I help you?”
As he answers the phone, Mary (Jimmy’s wife), is on the other end of that phone call, and she says, “Thank God you are there! We have an emergency; my friends’ kid is not breathing!”
At the same time, a 911 call comes over our radio. “Ridge FD for a 1 echo call cardiac arrest.” It gives Jimmy’s address.”
Jimmy rushes inside the ambulance and tells me what is happening. Without waiting for the rest of the crew, we roll. Jimmy starts driving the ambulance directly to his house.
As we pull up near Jimmy’s house, I grab my bags and run inside the house. I walk in. I see Mary and her daughter performing CPR on a baby boy. The baby looks blue and is not moving at all. I say to myself, “OH MY GOD!” Every compression done by Mary makes it look as if the boy is trying to come back to life. However, as I got closer, it is just the motion of the compressions on that little body.
I say to Mary, “I’ve got it from here.” I take the baby into my arms and continue the CPR, this time including mouth to mouth ventilations. I run back to the ambulance with the baby in my arms, while Charlie, (RFD fireman), who drove himself to Jimmy’s house, and John, (SCPD) a police officer assigned to the call, asks me, “Sid, what do you need?”
I’m so concentrated performing CPR by myself that I am not listening to anything Charlie and John are saying. John calls all PD units available in the area to block the roads and provide an escort to the emergency room.
Decisively, Charlie grabs me and says, “Sid! John and I can help you, just tell us what you need!”
I finally listen. As Charlie is doing ventilations, John is doing compressions. Now I’m free to connect the oxygen for Charlie’s BVM (bag valve mask), giving me time to put the
baby on my AED (automatic electric defibrillator).
“No shock advised.” While Jimmy drives to the ER, John gives the other officers the route we are taking. I cannot take my mind off my mission: I have to save this baby.
I ask Jimmy, “How far are we from the hospital?”
He answers, “We are about 2 minutes away.”
As I look at the baby, his color is changing from blue to pink, thus giving me a sense of security. Once more, I am not listening to John, who is trying to tell me that the baby’s leg is rigor, an indication that the baby is already dead. Since I am getting a positive response from the oxygen, I refuse to give up. I keep performing the CPR.
We run inside the ER with baby, the ER staff is waiting for us. The head of the emergency department is outside as the ambulance is pulling in. She comes to me to get all the information for the patient as fast as possible. As we get inside of the ER, the baby’s mom walks with us. She was in the passenger seat of the ambulance. She is crying desperately for her son. CPR is still given to the baby by the ER staff for about 5 minutes, and then, the same doctor who came to see me, pronounces the baby dead.
I get angry, very angry, especially at the doctor. “Why don’t you do something?” I say. “He looks pink! we have a chance to bring him back! Please don’t give up! Don’t do that, Doctor. Keep working on him, please!”
Hospital Security takes me out to the bay, while the doctor talks to the baby’s mom. Charlie and John come to me and John says, “Sid, I was trying to tell you, the baby’s leg was rigor. I think he was dead for a while now; do not blame yourself, you have done a good job, Kid.”
I refuse to listen to anyone. I get into the back of my ambulance and I tell Jimmy, “I’m sorry Brother, I cannot do this anymore.” I see how Jimmy does not know what to say to me, he just starts driving back to the firehouse. We walk back inside, park and start cleaning the back of the ambulance, which is totally trashed. I do not want to be there, and do not want to be an EMT anymore. I keep asking myself Why? Why has the baby passed away? he was only six months and he was at the ER last night. They said to his mom he had nothing wrong! He was just a little angel that God had sent to us, and we had no way to save him.
All week long, I kept looking back in my mind at the call, considering different scenarios, but none of them looked favorable for the baby. Three days after that emergency, I got a call from Tom L, one of the Suffolk EMS directors. He was asking to see me about that call. As I walked into Tom’s office, I was very tense. I did not know for sure what he wanted to talk to me about, even though I had a pretty good idea. In my head was the incident that happened with the doctor and the staff at the hospital. I knew I lost control after the doctor had pronounced the baby dead. I knew that was coming back to haunt me somehow. Or was it because I refused to wait for more people to help me at the scene?
Nonetheless, I remember correctly what my EMT instructor always told me, “See what is always best for your patients. Also, if the time that you need to wait for experts’ help is greater than the time of arrival to the hospital, choose the hospital, they have everything there to do more for your patients.”
Tom called me into his office and asked me about the call and why I continued the CPR on the baby. He said that the ER physician told him that the baby was already dead, for about an hour, before we started rescue efforts.
I responded to him, “I just grabbed the baby and started CPR, and when I attached the oxygen, the baby’s color changed; that gave me a sense of hope, so I decided to begin rescue efforts and give the child a chance.”
Frustrated, I asked Tom, “Why are you bringing me here? I feel terrible about what happened to the baby and I don’t want to be here or in the fire department anymore, I’ve had it! I cannot go on like this! If you don’t mind, I’d like to go home now.”
Tom has seen these situations before. He said, “I just need to make sure you are okay, see Sid? this is not the first time I’ve talked to you guys about this. You guys go out there and make it happen to hundreds of people in one way or another. The most important thing is that if you were not there that morning, those parents would not have had any hope for their son. You guys gave them hope, at least for a moment. You tried to give that baby a chance to live.
“See, Sid? We, first responders, sooner or later, we all have that call when we lose someone in spite of our better efforts. I know is not easy to go through it, but that is why we are here, to let you know we got your back. We are a family connected by the same goals, to help others and each other.”
I walked out of Tom L’s office thinking of what he said to me and feeling a bit better. I realized how Tom is a human, and that, as I did that morning, many of us first responders, have to go through similar situations. If we let the demons of despair win, we may lose the battle against our guilt, and we will not be able to keep helping others. I still think about that call that made me realize how I am also only a human being doing the best I can for others.