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Behind the Patient: Street Portraits
by Michael Morse

A medic’s haunted memory of a scared child

Ten-year-old girls shouldn't wear the same expression as their mothers on the way to the hospital

By Michael Morse

On one of the toughest streets in Providence, a little girl named “Shyla” begins to board a school bus when her face starts to twitch. Then her legs start shaking. She's afraid – petrified, really – and wants to cry out but finds she cannot. Her voice is gone.

It lasts long enough for the other kids to notice, and for the driver to stop the bus and call 911. We arrive and help her through the gauntlet of other students, and out the side door as they gawk.

The episode has passed, and we’re in the safety of the rescue now. She’s with her family who joined us when they saw the commotion at the bus stop, and Shyla appears normal again.

She tells me she likes math. She's in a charter school — one only the best students get into. She sits on the bench seat, next to her little sister and brother, with her mom in the Captain’s seat and the baby nestled in a car seat that I've secured to the stretcher. Her siblings are fascinated with the "amboolance."

Shyla had something similar happen a few weeks ago, at a birthday party. Her sister saw that episode and was afraid; she thought her big sister was dying. Their mom took her to the ER where they did a CT scan that was inconclusive, then follow-up testing, an EEG and some blood work, but no results yet. They’re waiting for their next doctor’s appointment to get some answers — hopefully.

So young to be so worried

Her mother holds up pretty well, but she works in the neurology department of a local hospital, and sees daily the effects of neurological disorders. Perhaps it's just a seizure, but why? There is no history of such, no fever, nothing to indicate that.

Shyla is lost in her thoughts, but the worry is evident on her pretty face that is the mirror image of her sisters, and a more youthful version of her mom’s. I keep an eye on her. The other kids enjoy the ride as we bounce toward the hospital. For them this is quite an adventure. But for mom and Shyla, there is no adventure; just the realization that something may be seriously wrong.

They're hopeful, and so am I, that this is nothing — just a weird thing that will go away. But I get a sense that isn't the case, and I think Shyla does, too. Her quiet, subdued demeanor stands out as her siblings carry on.

I thought of them all the way home, and into the night. Somebody else will take their place, probably by tomorrow. But for now, I'll close my eyes, and offer them the closest thing I know to a prayer.

About the author

Michael Morse is a retired Rescue Captain with the Providence (RI) Fire Department. He is the author of the books Mr. Wilson Makes it Home, Rescuing Providence and Responding. His columns appear in numerous fire and EMS publications and the Providence Journal. He can be reached by email to Michael Morse
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Connie Teeters Connie Teeters Sunday, April 27, 2014 9:25:13 AM Wow great story
Anthony Dobson Anthony Dobson Sunday, April 27, 2014 10:06:35 AM I know exsactly what there going thru I was in the position of the little girl
Rescuing Providence Rescuing Providence Sunday, April 27, 2014 2:50:49 PM Hop you are okay, Tony.
Rescuing Providence Rescuing Providence Sunday, April 27, 2014 2:51:17 PM Thank you Connie.
Elizabeth Kane Carter Elizabeth Kane Carter Sunday, April 27, 2014 4:31:24 PM Very well written piece. Just curious...would you want to know Shlya's outcome, or would it bother you even more to hear she received bad news?
Shannon Davidson Shannon Davidson Sunday, April 27, 2014 7:35:46 PM I have been on your side of the fence, as well as the mother. To see that worry in your child's face, when as a medical professional you know something is seriously wrong is heartbreaking. It makes you question everything you know, and you soon come to the realization that all you can do is pray.
Bella Huften Bella Huften Sunday, April 27, 2014 9:49:22 PM it is to sad
Yogi Ed Zubrzycki Yogi Ed Zubrzycki Monday, April 28, 2014 4:39:30 AM I had a similar situation with a 5 year old boy who was suffering from severe abdominal pains. The scared look on his face is something one cannot forget. I silently say a prayer for him and try to comfort him with a plush toy Teddy bear, talk about baseball, but he was still afraid.
Rescuing Providence Rescuing Providence Tuesday, April 29, 2014 11:10:44 AM Hello Elizabeth, I would like to know most of the time but seldom find out what happens to my patients if they leave the ER. Maybe that's for the best, there are a lot of people who cross our path.

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