Damian was a happy child.
Radiant, bright, and full of life; like an abstract painting constructed of bright and vivid colors. He was like a bright light that guided others when it was dark. He was always smiling and in a great mood. That is one of the things I’ll miss the most from Damian. It is one of the things I love about my career, yet hate at the same time.
People will often tell me “Are you crazy? How can you hate your job? Your salary is great.” The thing is, there is so much more than just a big paycheck in the medical field. It is a way to be a basic human being and tend to others in need of aid.
The patients we receive here at the ICU are more than just patients. They are our friends and family. We are all one big staff here, made of nurses, doctors, surgeons, and the most important individuals that fuel us all to continue doing what we do.
People like Damian are the ones we learn to cherish the most and learn from. Despite the age difference, he taught me so much on enjoying life. He taught me to be happy even when everything seems to go to waste. Despite Damian’s cancer, he was always optimistic and humorous. When I first tested him and gave his parents the results of his leukemia, they were heart broken. The mother was hysterical, she could not believe the words that came out of my mouth. The father just sat there, shocked in a distraught state, wondering why?
Why his son? He too could not believe the harsh reality life gave them.
As doctors, we are not prepared for this. We undergo extensive medical training but no training in dealing with the depression we receive from having to break the horrible news to families. We too, are left broken on the inside.
People think we are cold, heartless, and dead in the inside. In reality, we are humans also, who must deal with the anger and frustration of not being able to do more for our patients. We do everything we can, but it seems like it isn’t enough; like in Damian’s case.
After I gave the news to his parents that Damian had acute lymphocytic leukemia and they were left distraught, I felt something inside of me aching. I felt my heart shattering into a million pieces, like a glass window breaking after being struck with a rock. I wasn’t prepared for this. This required a higher level of mentality that we were not equipped with. I signed up for the opportunity to save lifes and show compassion and demonstrate basic humanity. I didn’t know I had to do any of this.
I felt worse after I had to explain to Damian that he had leukemia. He was only 6, yet for his age very optimistic and intelligent. After I told him that he had cancer, his facial expressions changed. He became very serious at first then smiled and looked me in the eyes and said “I’m not a cancer, I’m a Capricorn. ” We exchanged glances and smiled.
The leukemia was far too advance for us to treat it. However, we did not give up. We gave him the best treatment required in order to keep him with us longer. The chemotherapy made it difficult on everyone not just his family but the doctors and staff. I, as his doctor, was left broken. It was very difficult to see him get weaker and weaker and smaller when I saw him. Despite the chemo, he still smiled and remained hopeful by planning for the future. He told me that he was interested in medicine, he wanted to discover a cure for cancer so people younger and older like him wouldn’t die. He wanted people to live and make the most of it.
He taught everyone to love life and remain hopeful even at the worst of times. He claimed things get better for those going through the worst. The last day we all saw him, we gathered the entire staff and his family together to show him support and let him know he wasn’t alone in this battle. The very last day, we all felt a very strong pain as we lost one of our own. He wasn’t just a patient, he was our friend. His very last moments were difficult on all of us. We gathered in his room and said our last words to him and told him goodbye one last time.
His passing was like looking into a sunset and seeing the sun go from bright and illuminating to dark and gloomy. We witnessed the change of color and how it all went dark. We were melancholic.
Every time we looked into a sunset, we reminisced about knowing we were always looking at Damian. He was with us everywhere and nowhere. As I looked from the rooftop of the hospital and over to the horizon and saw the sunset; I saw Damien once again. Even in death, he still illuminated our lives in a radiant bright red orange color and we could see his rays bursting through the grey clouds into the blue of the sky and seeing the mixture of color, one last time.
~Jesus Barrera Rodela | Edited by Nandini