Emergency Care

from David Kessler

I think every new doctor who prays asks God for the same thing. “Please, God, don’t let my inexperience cause anyone to be hurt or die.” I added to that, “Especially not a child.” In medical school, I received little training in how to handle pediatric emergencies, because if you aren’t specializing in the care of children, it doesn’t happen that often.

Six months after finishing my internship, I was working in a hospital emergency room. It was a hot afternoon in the middle of summer. The ambulance driver called. He was about an hour away, bringing in two near-drowning victims: small boys who had been swimming in a lake. At that point, the connection broke. I had no idea what care they had received or what shape they were in. I couldn’t reach the ambulance driver, and he didn’t call back.

This was my worst fear. I phoned the backup doctor, but in emergency pediatrics he had no more experience than I did. It was a long hour: taking care of other patients; mentally reviewing everything I knew about children drowning; repeating my prayer, “Please, God, don’t let anyone be hurt because of my inexperience.”

Finally the ambulance arrived. One boy was sitting up smiling, the other boy looked like he was going to be okay. Coming in with them was a man about my age, dressed in swimming trunks with sandy bare feet. He was, like me, a new doctor, a resident at a nearby teaching hospital. His specialty? Pediatrics.

He had been swimming at the lake when the near-drowning happened. He climbed into the ambulance with the children, and by the time they got to me, he had already taken care of them.