We are all familiar with the saying "Actions speak louder than words." It is most often used to connote something favorable and positive. Unfortunately, this quote was the first thing that popped into my head while treating a recent patient.
I had been walking down the main ER hallway, another crazy shift in bloom, when one of my favorite nurses poked her head out of a room.
"Doctor K," Carla asked, "are you free to help me out with this patient?" I didn't even need to give her an answer. When Carla beckons, I come running. Plain and simple, she is that amazing.
I walked into Carla's room to find a patient lying in bed, hands to his face, crying out for his mother. Heartbreaking. His mother was kneeling beside him, whispering quietly in her son's ear. Tears were streaming down her face, too.
The patient was seven. A sweet, scared little boy named Eddie. Eddie had been rushed to our ER to be treated for burns to his face and body. From the doorway, I could see several small blisters with surrounding redness on his bare torso.
What were the circumstances that resulted in these burns? Apparently, Eddie did not come from a good socioeconomic situation and, as a result, lived in a crowded apartment with his mother and several other family members.
The day Eddie was brought to the ER had been an especially cold one. While his family sat watching TV in a room off of the kitchen, Eddie, hoping to be useful, went alone into the kitchen. He had decided that he would warm up the apartment. He grabbed a cigarette lighter and successfully persevered in his struggle to flick the lighter's flame. With his free hand, he turned the oven's dial to "ON." Ready to be a big man and provide heat for his family, he opened the door to the gas oven. Slowly, while holding his arm stiffly in front of him, he advanced the flame into the oven.
Whoosh! A sudden flash of flame was born and jumped out at Eddie, surprising him. He instinctively yelled out as he backed away from the heat. The pain and redness to his skin was immediate. The family called 911 and, after shutting the oven door, turned off the dial. Their quick thinking stopped any further flames from spreading. Eddie, with his mother accompanying him, was brought urgently to us.
I was able to determine that Eddie's burns were "minor." His airway and breathing were stable and his burns were either first degree (superficial, like a sunburn) or second degree (partial thickness, or to the layers just below the skin surface). When you are seven and in pain, though, any burn is considered "major" in my book. Suffice it to say, Eddie's burns were significant but not life-threatening.
While giving him pain medicine, some IV hydration, and soaking his wounds, we discussed Eddie's case with our regional burn unit. They requested we transfer him to their facility for overnight observation. I agreed wholeheartedly. He was a child in pain. He deserved to be treated cautiously, tenderly.
"Eddie," I asked, after we had made him comfortable, "what made you decide to light the oven this way?"
"Mama and Aunt Pammie do it all the time," Eddie said, shyly looking over at his mother. She was now sitting in a chair, beside his cot, stroking his hand.
"To cook?" I asked, rubbing this brave little kid's shoulder.
"No. We light it and keep the door open so we can stay warm." With the colder weather, it turns out, Eddie's family supplemented their apartment's warmth this way. Eddie, after seeing his mother and aunt light the oven several times, thought that he could do it, too. My heart broke a little, in that moment, looking at this thoughtful little boy who sustained burns because he was trying to help his family. He gave his mother a feeble, lopsided grin, the morphine adding to his charm.
"Baby, it's okay," the mother said, stroking his hand. "Aunt Pammie and I should have never done that." She turned to me and continued. "I'm not going to get in trouble, am I?" Although the question seemed self-serving, I was genuinely impressed with her concern for Eddie. She handled her little man with appropriate and abundant love. She even insisted on helping Carla with Eddie's treatment. I felt only good energy with her, discerning nothing suspicious. Eddie, it seemed to me, had a mother that truly loved him.
"No, you're not," I assured her, "but let me have our social worker talk to you about your living conditions and see if there is any available help for your family. Maybe have them come out and check the place out for you."
"Thank you," she said, "We could use some help trying to get the landlord to fix some of them windows."
So, as it turns out, Eddie's injuries were not a result of being negligent or careless. They stemmed from imitating the adults in his life, who were completely unaware of the lessons they were teaching him.
Eddie's situation got me to thinking in that deep, reflective way. How many times through the day do I, as a parent, verbalize to my children what I feel are essential life lessons when, in actuality, my witnessed actions carry more weight than any of my words. Actions that can be both good or bad. Conscious or instinctive. Helpful or harmful. Deliberate or unplanned.
Witnessed or unwitnessed by young eyes. My kids' eyes. Your kids' eyes.
Eddie ended up recovering quite nicely from his injuries and his family was very appreciative for his treatment and good outcome. They could not, however, have been nearly as appreciative as I was of the important lesson they reminded me.
Thank you, Eddie, the little big man. It's not everyday I get a life-lesson from a seven year-old.
As always, thanks for reading. Next posting will be Wednesday, February 3. Thanks for your votes and support in the Medgadget Weblog Awards...much appreciated.