If I close my eyes and let myself, I can still see the 11-year-old boy with his pale feet sticking out from under the blanket, on his way to the morgue after a gun accident.
If I close my eyes and let myself, I can still see the still, blue form of the 3-month-old who passed away in his sleep. We gave CPR and all the medicines “just in case,” but that baby was gone long before his caregiver brought him in through the door.
If I close my eyes and let myself, I can still see the 3-year-old who got into Mommy’s Tylenol. Or the 6-year-old who got too close to the fireplace. Or the toddler whose brother dared him to drink Drano.
Yes, if I close my eyes and let myself, I could let fear come in and take over.
Many emergency workers suffer from PTSD, whether it’s been days since they were called to help at a traumatic event, or years later. It can be especially tricky when you’re an emergency worker (or a former one, like me) and you’re also a parent.
These things I saw, will they happen to my kids? You can’t help but wonder.
But also, if I close my eyes and let myself, I can hear the still, small voice of my Father, who tells me not to be afraid.
I believe He’s also taught me the simple skill of separating work from home. Work is work, and my family is my family. The hospital is the hospital, and home is home. There is no reason for me to think the things I saw in the hospital will be repeated in my home. Some people call this mental shift “compartmentalization,” and while it gets a bad rap, I’ve actually found it to be a useful tool in preserving my sanity as a mom.
My kids will get bruised knees. They may gag on a pancake and need a few thumps on the back. There will be trampoline-related head bumps, viruses that come and go, and tears and bellyaches and fevers. All these bumps and bruises are normal parts of family life with children. But I’ve had to learn not to fixate on their little illnesses and injuries, to step back and see the bigger picture, to say, “They’re fine, and they will be fine. God is taking care of them.”
The bigger, spiritual question that follows is inevitable: Does that mean God wasn’t taking care of those families I saw in my Emergency Room experience? Of course, the answer is no. He loves all His children. And my Bible says not even a single sparrow can fall to the ground without His knowing it.
But it’s also true that each of those families has their own story, and though I was privileged to be there for a moment in time (likely their most horrific moment), I do not know the whole story. Perhaps their ending hasn’t even been written yet. I pray the Lord can bring beauty from their ashes.
My heart aches for families who’ve endured this kind of loss. Yet I’ve learned if I’m going to be able to put one foot in front of the other—if I’m going to be able to endure my own kids’ bumps and bruises without anxiety crippling me—I need to be able to lay aside the things I saw in my career. I commit each of those families to God’s loving care, just as I commit my own children to Him. I trust that He is taking care of the bigger plan I do not see, just as He is taking care of all the little, daily things that I do see. This walk of trust doesn’t come easily, but it can come if I practice, one day at a time, and if I remember that fear has no place in the messy, beautiful life of a mom.