I had been following a little girl, “Muñeca,” in the PICU. She was only 3 years old, but after a horrendous procedure gone wrong in Mexico, she was brought over for any sort of saving efforts.
During a weekend visit with her dad in Tijuana, family noticed their Muñeca was acting unlike her usual self: she was vomiting excessively, stumbling around, and her eyes were deviated inward. They took her to a clinic and received news they were not able to understand. Their little girl had a “brain tumor” and needed to be taken for surgery “immediately.”
The parents did not even have time to react, it’s as if they stood still as everything around them sped by. By the time they came to their senses, they were in the recovery room, only to find that their once normal, cheeky, talkative daughter still had not woken up. Something obviously was not right, but the doctors were not providing any clear answers.
So mom picked up her still intubated little girl and drove straight to the border, where Muñeca was then ambulanced over to our hospital. From our assessment and findings, Muñeca indeed had evidence of brain resection, but there was also significant brainstem injury and damage to her midbrain. Her neurological sequelae was unfortunate and she would require mechanical ventilation indefinitely for her poor airway tone: while she is alive, her quality of life would remain poor.
Mom could not understand this, let alone accept it. Every morning I would come see Muñeca, and every time mom was at bedside talking, singing, or praying to her little girl. There were never any changes, and what kept mom hopeful was not the lack of progress, but the absence of deterioration. I was moved by the mother’s faith even though I felt it to be displaced. I can’t even imagine the pain she must be experiencing, seeing a child that is not like the one she brought in or once knew. It is truly a loss and process she is still working through.
So every day I continued to see Muñeca, but I found I was taking away more from seeing mom. I realized how much people can move us — with their hopes and dreams, sorrows and grief. I never want to forget that feeling as I continue through medicine. It’s the only thread that keeps us together, reminding me just how human life makes us to be.