Dr. Shaikh trained under PPGV’s Dr. Mac Whitehouse. This is her story.
With a bottle of hydrogen peroxide I soak a towel and clean the small little lifeless bloody hand on the gurney. At the intersection of science and emotion my mind wanders as I clean. I don’t want his parent’s hand stained with their own child’s blood when they let go. If they let go. I try not to feel the rush of my emotions hurling at me like a runaway train. I have to pull it together so I can shortly go tell the parents of this precious young boy that their child has died.
I clean that hand as gently but as intently as I can to make sure every last drop of blood is gone. I couldn’t do much else for him; the injury was devastating and non-survivable. Not one skillset in all my training and experience could help me to help him live. The bullet traversed his brain from one side to out the other. No one survives. That is the science. I felt my eyes well up with tears. The trauma nurse quietly takes over the cleaning.
It was a trauma nurse who taught me to clean hands for dead patients. It is a lesson that has stayed with me, as morbid as that sounds. Similarly, I was taught to cover bodies in a blanket and wrap the head in gauze after cleaning any head wounds. Then it will just look like the child is sleeping. Peacefully.
My young patient was 4 years old. He hadn’t even had enough time to begin to live. Through tears his mom shows me a video she had made just a few hours earlier. Time warps as I travel back to see the life of a young child with the most beautiful brown eyes and an engaging, innocent precious smile playing with LEGOS. The moment belies what was to happen shortly thereafter. Time would pass and once done building LEGOS his life and my life would intersect in one of the most tragic ways possible.
“I didn’t even know my boys knew we had a gun in the house” mom tells me through gasping sobs. Her husband stands at her side- he tries to hold her in comfort. She pulls away. Immediately I know why. The gun was his. She never wanted it in the house. She never wanted it at all. I read it all on her face because I have seen this story over and over again. The people are just different this time. The gaping emotional heart wrenching impact though is the same.
It’s the middle of the morning. 1030 am. Normally these children would have been in school. But we are in a global pandemic. Schools are closed. Usually a safe haven for so many, these learning environments engage the mind and busy the body. They keep our kids out of trouble – or at the very least minimize the trouble they can get into. We underestimate how valuable school truly is.
The conversation falls to silence.
I step away feeling like an intruder on a very personal moment. The police are waiting for me outside. They need a report. They want to know injuries. Monotonously I answer their questions as I have similarly before. They look as shocked as I feel.
“Where did the older child get the gun?” I ask.
They kept a gun in the house, to protect against intruders. A flood of questions come into my head. Did they not know that the odds of needing to shoot an intruder are so much less than the odds of a gun accident in the house? Did they not listen to their pediatrician who asked about safety locks and lockboxes for gun storage? I don’t ask any of the questions because in this very moment it won’t change a thing.
The older brother had found the gun box. In the closet. On the top shelf. Behind shoe boxes. Tucked under old clothes. He had seen Dad put it away once and also knew where Dad hid the key to open the lock. He picked up the gun. It was shiny, clean and crisp to touch. Much like he thought the one in his video game might be. He turned the gun around in his hand and latched his small finger on the trigger all while his imagination went wild. He was chasing down the bad guys. There was a gun fight. He needed to save some innocent people. He was going to shoot them and be a hero. He aimed it toward the closet door and gently pulled the trigger.
BAM! A loud sound muffled his hearing for a moment. The gun recoiled in his hand and knocked him off the step stool he was standing on. He fell to the ground surprised. He heard someone running up the stairs. He quickly put the gun down. He stepped outside at the very same moment his mother and father walked around the corner to find his younger brother on the carpet…lifeless.
I’ll never be able to look at LEGOS the same way again.
Traumatic injury – such as gun violence – is a nearly 100% preventable disease. Gun violence is no less now that #stayathome and #socialdistancing are in effect. In fact when all is said and done, statistics will likely show an increase during these “shelter at home” times. Economies are stressed as are lives. Schools which are normally safe havens for children are closed. Choices made in boredom or under stress are not always the wisest. If you choose to own a gun please abide by the following:
1) Store guns safely. Guns and ammunition should be stored separately.
2) Use an approved firearms safety device on the gun such as a trigger lock or cable lock so it cannot be fired.
3) Store it unloaded in a locked approved container (lock box or gun safe).
4) Use both a locking device and separate container for maximum safety.
Choose wisely. Save a life.
Almaas Shaikh MD
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Disclaimer: Any resemblance real, fictional or in location in the writing of the story is purely coincidental.
Photo below of LEGO Sydney Opera House built by Kashif Zubair; a build of nearly 3000 pieces requiring pure grit and determination.