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The Cradle Will Fall

The man crouched on the floor in the corner of the room does not stop screaming. His wife holds him tightly in her arms from behind, keening softly, pressing herself into his back as they rock together mindlessly in the timeless rhythm of grief and loss.

You have been called to this small, tidy house in one of the toughest neighborhoods you serve for a “gunshot—child down.” The child, a five-year-old boy whose head is fatally damaged by the wayward bullet, lies motionless on the brown tweed couch as the television he was watching projects the shrill, happy laughter of living children. It is almost more than you can bear. You, like the two adults huddled helplessly together in agony over the death of their child, are also a parent.

This issue of EMS focuses on pediatric emergencies, and is filled with important information on how you can make a difference in the lives of the children you are called upon to professionally treat. Here, we discuss what you can do to make a difference in the lives of the helpless parents of those children, who, regardless of the realities, depend upon you to help, heal and save those who are more precious to them than life itself.

First, a caveat: Yes, there are parents who mistreat, abuse, neglect, starve, discard and detest their children. You, more than most of us, meet these individuals in the course of your daily jobs. You see the kids with injuries that could not have occurred naturally; horrible injuries that were inflicted by those in whom they placed their ultimate trust. You see the hurt that is deliberately caused by sick adults seeking to damage their children as they were themselves damaged. You are revolted by bearing witness to these images and actions from hell and beyond, and you do whatever you can to stop the damage from recurring. It is one of the worst parts of your job, and one of the chief creators of your nightmares.

Here, however, we speak of those to whom their children are a joy; marvelous creatures created in their images by some mystical, imperfectly understood, fortuitous combination of nature, nurture, genetic codes, chance, magic, passion and luck. Those folks who are irretrievably hooked from the first moment their eyes lock with those of their child; those whose hearts leap out of their chests at the child’s first sharp wail of discomfort or injury; those whose very identities are imprinted and defined by the fact of the existence of their children in the world in which they live.

These luckless captives of chance cannot help themselves: Becoming a parent means becoming a slave to the unstable emotions of parenthood. And when a kid is hurt, a parent turns into a helpless, sniveling, demented, disoriented blob of gooey slop, needing all the help you can deliver. They cling, they shout, they cry, they curse, they demand—they lose all knowledge of adult rules of behavior and behave badly. Like…children. And they need all the care their children do: love, tenderness, kindness, gentleness, reassurance, hugs, squeezes, pats and murmurings. They need to know it’s going to be OK, and if it’s not, they need to be helped to digest and absorb that knowledge. They need you, in your very best incarnation of loving humanity, to help them through.

Not an easy job. Not a job for those deficient in compassion, empathy and understanding. A job that requires strength of character, emotional stability, generosity of spirit. And even if you are not a parent, whether through choice or circumstance, you are the child of a parent, and have experienced one of the strongest, most complex of human connections. We thank you and honor you for the help you give to all of us—and our children.

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