Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Chance Encounter

My dad and older sister, Diane, are in town for a few days. Last night, Ed, Dad, Diane, and my nephew, Ben, and I all went out to dinner at Colonel Brooks’ Tavern here in our neighborhood. The original plan had not been to go out to eat—I had bought groceries for two nights’ worth of dinners, but ultimately didn’t feel like cooking. There are only two sit-down restaurants in the neighborhood—Colonel Brooks’ and San Antonio Bar and Grill. San Antonio, just a block up the street, was a favorite hangout for us with Hudson—I went there often with my Brookland mom-friends and all our babies. The last photo we have of Hudson was taken there at a mom-baby happy hour on the Friday before she went into the hospital. I’ve been back there only once since Hudson died, to celebrate one of our mom-friends’ birthdays—I haven’t been able to go back since, so that was not really an option. Plus, Ben had scored us a $25 gift certificate for Colonel Brooks’, so Colonel Brooks’ it was.

We walked in, told the host there were five of us, and then started to follow him around to a table at the back of the restaurant. I walked about 3 steps, looked up, and froze. There, looking right at me, at a table of about 20 people, was the PICU Fellow in charge of Hudson’s care at Children’s. He looked away, then looked back. I was stunned—it seemed like 100 thoughts went through my mind in the course of one second. I finally settled on this one: I could either look away and pretend like I hadn’t seen him or just say hi. Looking away somehow did not seem like an option—although I didn’t consciously think this at the time, I think now that it would have felt like some kind of betrayal of Hudson’s existence, much like it would feel for me to lie if asked if I have children.  So I said, “Oh, hey, Dr. X, how are you?” And he nodded and said solemnly (he’s a pretty solemn guy—young, but solemn), “Hey, how are you all doing?” I think I said, “We’re good” or “Fine”—not sure which, or even if I said anything at all. We kept walking to our table.

It seemed like he was there for some sort of work-related outing—our neighborhood and the restaurant are only about five minutes from Children’s and it looked like it was probably a group of doctors. I had no idea if he knew exactly who I was—given the number of patients and patients’ families he sees on a regular basis, I figured it was entirely possible that we looked familiar to him (all five of us had spent significant time at the hospital while Hudson was sick) but only as that—some patient’s family. I didn’t know if he knew we were Hudson’s family, or if he remembered who Hudson was, or if he remembered Hudson had died. It was a bizarre feeling, because of course, we will never forget his face.  Ever. 

We sat down and all of us started to talk about how strange it was to see him there. I think I was in shock. Just yesterday morning, I had been reading Heather Spohr’s blog about the first time she saw one of the doctors after her 17-month-old daughter died in the hospital from an infection. So I had just been thinking about how I would feel if I ran into Dr. X somewhere, but I don’t really know what I thought I would feel. I guess I figured it would trigger some kind of PTSD-like reaction where I would relive all those terrible days again, but unfortunately, I’ve been doing a pretty good job of that on my own without any help.  Whatever I expected, I actually felt OK to have seen him.

The main thing I thought about was that at some point soon, the hospital is supposed to invite us in for a consultation of some sort, literally a post-mortem, I think, where they would talk with us again about what happened, and we could ask any questions that had come up since Hudson died that we’d been unable to conceive of under extreme duress. I’ve been both looking forward to and dreading this, because the only question I want an answer to is a question I am pretty sure they won’t answer: whether she would still be alive if we’d brought her in to the ER 12 hours earlier. And really, I only want an answer if the answer is “No.” I so want someone in charge to clear me, to tell me that even if we had done that, it still would not have made any difference, either because the infection had already progressed too far by that point, or because Hudson’s symptoms at that time would not have warranted suspicions of meningitis and they’d have sent us home. I am pretty sure no one at the hospital would speculate like that, regardless of what direction the speculation would lean. But I am desperate for absolution.

As our dinner was winding down, I could tell Dr. X and his group had not yet left and I was hesitant to pass back by their table. And then, all of a sudden, he was passing by ours on his way to the bathroom. I don’t even know what made him stop but he did. We all said hello again and he said, “I didn’t expect to run into you all at a bar.” And I smiled and agreed that it was an odd experience, and told him about my thought earlier that I could either ignore him or say hi, and ignoring him seemed not quite right. He said he remembered us and Hudson well.  Dad mentioned that we were glad about all the donations coming into Hudson’s fund for the PICU. Dr. X said, “You know, it’s always really nice when something good like that can come out of something terrible.” And we agreed. And then he continued, “But it doesn’t change the fact that it is really fucking terrible.”  Indeed. 

Overnight, I dreamed about Hudson for the fourth time since she died. The details of the dream are mostly fuzzy, but the general gist of it was that I was supposed to be watching her and wasn’t doing a very good job. I remember one scene where I was up on some kind of balcony above the room where she was—I looked down and saw her sitting on top of a glass coffee table, crawling toward the edge, where she would surely fall off. The only other scene I remember was holding her in my lap, trying to pry chewing gum, a silver chewing gum wrapper, and some other small pieces of trash out of her mouth—she had picked all of this off the floor and tried to eat it while I wasn’t watching her. I said to someone (I have no idea who it was), “I’m such a terrible mother.” I don’t need a dream interpreter to tell me what that one was about.

I haven’t yet figured out the reason why, but I feel like we were supposed to run into Dr. X last night. It was all too weird—I had just been thinking about him that morning, our plan to go out to eat was very last-minute, we had this coupon for Colonel Brooks’, all five of us were together, and it triggered a dream about Hudson. Despite my shock and despite the seemingly negative thoughts and dreams that ensued, I’m glad we saw him. Really glad, actually. Maybe it’s simply knowing that I can survive an encounter that, in my imagination, seemed like it might be pretty scary. Maybe it was just satisfying an intense but unexplained need I’ve been feeling off and on to see someone connected to that experience. Maybe it’s that he understood Hudson’s One Good Thing without us even telling him about it.

Maybe I’ll just take it as a totally incomprehensible blessing of some sort and hope that understanding comes later.


  1. Of course he remembered you, remembered Hudson. Experiences like that, people like you, are written in indelible ink on his heart. This is not an everyday occurrence, even for a PICU doctor.

    How do you make the lines jump out like that: "But it doesn't change the fact that it is really fucking terrible." Someone needs to come and pick me up off the floor, or if I can muster the strength I need to go next door to Adrienne Allison's office and cry, again, again.

    I know you aren't thinking of this right now, at all, but this thing is a best-selling memoir, complete with a title. I've never read anything like it in my life. Profoundly and deeply moving at every level, and it's not because I've met you, it's the writing itself.

  2. I agree with Melynn. I found your blog through my friend's blog so I don't know you or Hudson, but this story and your writing is so moving that I find myself checking your blog a couple of times a day to see how you are doing or whether you have posted another picture or story of your precious girl. I find myself crying at my desk hoping none of my co-workers drop by. I can't even read Goodnight Moon to my son without crying anymore because it makes me so sad to think of that as Hudson's book (even though I've known the book through years of babysitting and almost 2 years of parenting). I keep thinking of something I could do or say that would make things easier for you, but I feel there is nothing I can do. This is an awful journey that you have to live through before it will get better. Your words are easy to relate to because we all love our children the same way you loved Hudson and hope that we will never have to live through this nightmare. Your writing makes Hudson come to life. I can just picture her vital little self talking and experiencing life through her beautiful pictures and your words. You have so much to offer the world, as is evident in the way you mothered Hudson and the words you are sharing in this blog. You inspire us all to be better parents and I'm sure help others who are on journeys similar to yours. I hope by blogging and by us reading that is bringing you some small measure of comfort. Hudson was surely a precious little girl who is missed and mourned by more people than knew her in life, which is a testament to you.

  3. No matter how many patients you see, or how many you are unable to save, you never forget them. Their family's names and faces may fade in time, but the patient, especially a child, never goes away and it never gets any easier for us, either. And maybe it won't help, because I wasn't the one actually there, working on your precious baby girl, but I've read your blog, and the details and the time line tells me it really wouldn't have made a difference if you had gone in 12 hours earlier. The signs and symptoms just weren't there yet to risk of doing a tap- because it isn't a risk free procedure and we take an oath to "First, do no harm." You did everything right. You did more and earlier than most parents would have done. If you would take my absolution, as a medical professional and a mother, I offer it in a heart beat.

  4. It sounds like seeing Dr. X was good for you. I'm glad. It pains me to read that you're still fighting the guilt demons, but in your shoes, I'm sure I'd be doing the same thing (way less gracefully and eloquently). If empathy could grant you the absolution you seek, you'd have it hundreds of times over from me and everyone else. For now, though, I'll say it again: you are a phenomenal mother.

  5. I am soo sorry to hear about the pain and loss you are going through. I too have suffered much loss in my life and wouldn't wish it upon my worst enemy. I have found some comfort in knowing that I am going to see my loved ones again. I was raised in a church where we are taught that families can be together forever. What strenght and comfort this has given me through my trials. I have complete faith that you are going to see your litte Hudson again. I can tell she was such a precious little thing. and I agree with the person above, you are a phenomenal mother. Remember you are in so many peoples thoughts and prayers.

  6. Your suffering, your joy, your words and your hope are so deeply moving. Every day, I read your posts, and I wish that there was something that I could do, or something that I could say. Please know that I think of you all the time, and am praying for the day when your pain is eased, and the what ifs have gradually subsided. Much love to you.

  7. I don't think there is anything I can say here that hasn't already been said. I found this blog by chance while searching for someone else's, and I'm really grateful to have stumbled upon it. Even though I can't imagine what you're going through, your writing makes me (and I'm sure many other readers) feel so completely connected to Hudson's story. I look every day to see what you've written and I don't know why bunches of other people aren't doing the same; flocking by the thousands. How you can write about something so beautifully despite the awful circumstances confounds me. There is nothing summative to say, really, just that I think about you and your family daily. Reading about Hudson's story has challenged some of my beliefs and concreted others. She was really lucky to be a part of your family. Keep writing.

  8. I don't know who your anonymous commenter who is both doctor and mother is, but I hope your heart finds a way to believe her words. I hope that when that awful moment comes at your conference at the hospital that you are able to find similar reassurance in those doctors' words, as well. As everyone has pointed out, you are doing something here that is so much more than just trying to write your way out of grief. The way you tell us about Hudson is transformative. The doctor is right-- it is really fucking terrible that this happened. No mother should ever have to live through this. But anyone who has met you knows that you are a person of great strength of will and even greater strength of heart. You will survive this, and more than One Good Thing will come out of it.

  9. Mandy - I worked in the PICU at CNMC for a month as part of my critical care fellowship. The children I helped take care of, and the families I interacted with, touched my life forever. I am sure that Hudson, as well as you and Ed, touched the soul of each and every nurse, doctor, tech, and support staff that you guys interacted with - reading about Hudson and getting to know her through your powerful words only reaffirms that in my mind. As a critical care doc I question all too often why certain things happen a certain way. I think of things I did that potentially could have changed the course of a patient. At times I have blamed myself for an unexpected death. Over time I have realized that these are irrational thoughts but it doesn't stop me from having them. Please know that you did what you were supposed to do - you took your precious baby to the ED and put her care in the hands of a world-class PICU team. Hudson was truly blessed to have you as her mom.

  10. Mandy, I don't have anything new to say, but I want so you and your family to know how much you are in my heart, all the time. I feel I am getting to know Hudson through your posts, and she was such a bright, sweet soul. Thank you for sharing her, for tracking your journey of grief here. It is such an unbelievable part of living, this nonsensical dying, and I can't figure it out, but I really appreciate the chance to be with you in this way, and to know Hudson.


  11. Kate Ackley ZellerJuly 21, 2010 at 1:16 PM

    Ed, thank you and Mandy for sharing your love and Hudson's light with us all. I feel very grateful and blessed to know the three of you.

    While I wish these words didn't have any reason to exist (because Hudson should be radiating her light all by herself in her smiles and giggles and her curiosity and mischief-making and joy at living her life), your writing, like Mandy's, is beautiful and inspiring. Thank you.

  12. I think you are right and that you were meant to run into him and to know that he remembered you, your family and Hudson. It is comforting. Hudson's life and death are unforgettable - - even by the professionals.