From Stephen Ceurvorst, Cambridge, 2017.
Dear All, This is to share my experiences at the Cambridge day of training.
It actually started as a fairly normal business trip to London, but a deal crisis happened. You know, the kind of crisis that temporarily steals your schedule. I’m talking full deal panic, and folks were starting to think weird things. It all seemed pretty important at the time, but it is highly likely that if I’m still around in 20 years I will not remember a thing about that particular crisis. That same week I was still able to take the less than reliable train to Cambridge to join Jason, Beverly, and Jeremy (Oxford comma intentional) to test firsthand the worthiness of our foundation’s work. What I witnessed I am certain will still be memorable 20 years from now.
As a CKF board member I could always understand the obvious nobility of the CKF purpose. I already knew that the training is intense. Our materials and videos are hard hitting compared to most, but for me did not penetrate emotions deeper than other charities that I care about.
The actors are convincing as they conjure real emotions from past life experiences. No surprises actually. You can see the scene coming from a mile away.
So what was the big deal?
Emotionally, it was the difference between watching a fight on television, and being in a fight yourself. Hello, doctor – where’s our baby? Sheer terror, the explosion of adrenalin, the slowing down of time itself, and each spoken word hits with the force of a bomb. Silence hits with the force of a bomb too. There is a real person looking into your eyes, showing real panic, real tears, and unfolding in front of you is exploding, devastating heartbreak. There is no way for you to break out of this moment. Nowhere to run. Loved ones of a dead child are now partly dying themselves. They are staring at you, numb and no longer able to even hear the words you are saying, now looking at you as their attacker. And to them that’s exactly what you are.
The parents in a single conversation go through some or all of Denial, Anger, Bargaining, and Depression. There’s more than one parent there, and they’re not going through the same emotions or at the same speed, so things get out of control and the fight is furious. You don’t get to see the part of Acceptance, and it may never come. You have made incredible sacrifices to try to help others, to heal, to save, and now you are unexpectedly and unfairly kidnapped by circumstances beyond your control. You, the good person, the smartest and hardest working student, set out to make the world a better place, are for an unexpected moment transformed into and a monster and a failure. And it hurt, and the guilt lasts longer than a moment.
One of the young doctors being trained had already had witnessed someone being told that their child had died but she, and every other doctor, cried after taking her turn in the hot seat because she didn’t do well enough. Even the highly experienced pediatrician leading the training was in tears, haunted by past experiences that she was brave to share. Can anyone be ready to be hatefully accused of being the opposite of who you really are? You care so much, give so much, but did you just hurt those parents for the rest of their lives, and will you in turn feel guilty about a misspoken word for the rest of your own life?
Learn, love, learn
It will not surprise you to hear that the training I witnessed in Cambridge was extremely intense, and extremely effective. Our foundation is certainly helping future parents who may be less harmed, and maybe even strengthened, in their moments of tragedy. Through directly participating I also came to understand how deeply we are helping the physicians, personally as well as professionally. The physicians who self-selected for this training clearly already care. They are each incredibly intelligent individuals who pursue their profession first and foremost out of love for others. They deserve to get this training, and they need it every bit as much as the parents.
I am proud to serve on the CKF board, and I echo the pleas for each of us to just pick a date and show up – and I guarantee that you will remember it.
From Michael Loeb, UCSF, 2018.
“Have most of the Board Members attended at least the morning portion of the training? It is breathtaking-but perhaps, better stated-it takes your breath away and places you in the cross hairs of unimaginable grief, raw emotion, and feelings of helplessness. How a doctor or nurse can respond with care, humanity and resilience is a daunting challenge.”