Dr. Charles Love hesitates at the door to the family waiting room. He has performed this task many times, but it never gets any easier.
Through a narrow window he sees a dozen or so people standing in a circle, holding hands, praying. Several of them are weeping. Dr. Love wishes he had good news for them, but he does not.
He opens the door and enters.
“Hello. I’m Dr. Love. Could I speak with the mother and father in private, please?”
The mother and father follow him to one corner. The mother is clutching a tissue, and the father has his hands in his pockets. They look at him with hopeful eyes.
“I’m afraid the injury was more extensive than we thought.”
“More extensive?” says the mother. “What does that mean? He’s going to be all right, isn’t he?”
“He’s going to make it, but—”
But he’ll never be the same. He’ll never drive a car, or flip a burger, or stroll hand-in-hand with his sweetheart on a moonlit winter night. He’ll never mow the lawn, or play the guitar, or finally catch that trophy bass. He won’t be able to father a child. He won’t be able to feed himself, or bathe himself. He’ll require constant care, twenty-four seven ...
“But what?” says the father.
“A sharp sliver of bone severed the spinal cord. We repaired the vertebrae, but the cord itself, there’s nothing we can do about that. Unfortunately, your son is going to spend the rest of his life with severe neurological deficits.”
“You mean he’s paralyzed?”
“From the neck down. I’m so sorry.”
The mother buries her head in the father’s chest. They embrace. They cry. Loud, mournful sobs of irretrievable loss.
Dr. Love excuses himself. He exits the waiting room, his heart flooded with empathy.
In the physicians’ lounge he sits alone and stares at his hands.
He wishes there was something more he could do, but there is not.
He wishes backyard trampolines were against the law, but they are not.
His pager trills, informing him of another trauma case en route.
Dr. Love hesitates, then gets up and trots toward the emergency room.