I’ve been working for Doctor Norman since I graduated from high school a few months ago. It was my turn to close down the office for the day. The waiting room was empty, the window-blinds closed, and Dr. Norman was just finishing up with his last patient. The office nurse had already left.
I walked through the waiting room to lock up when a woman burst through the door which knocked me to the wall. She was disheveled, her eyes large and glassy, and carrying a baby partially wrapped in a blanket. She screamed, “Help me, please help me!” as she ran to me and thrust her baby into my arms. Sobbing hysterically she shouted, “Make him wake up, oh pa-lees, please MAKE HIM WAKE UP! Her voice was so tight with fear I could barely understand her as she continued, “I’m really in trouble now. My husband will kill me!” She was standing between me and the inner office door, talking so fast it was hard to keep up with what she was saying.
I was shaking as I held the breathless baby. The scent of baby powder wafting up made this seem unreal. I’ll take the baby to the Doctor now if you will just have a seat. I knew every minute counted. I tried moving away from her toward the door.
Instead of moving aside, she reached out caressing the baby in my arms. A tear rolled down her face. She then jerked her arms back and clutched her body as she quietly continued, her eyes looking colorless, empty, “the baby kept crying and crying. I couldn’t stop him from crying so I just laid him in the crib for a little while, then he was quiet and went to sleep.”
The young mother continued in a monotone voice, shaking her head and blinking her eyes, “After a little while I-I checked on him and he w-wasn’t breathing. His he-head was against the crib bars and he wasn’t b-breathing!” She gulped for air and screamed “Please make him breathe, PLEASE!” Her pain electrified the air in the room. She reached out and grabbed my arm.
I pushed her aside and almost yelled at her “Please sit down and let me take the baby to the Doctor.” I ran to the exam rooms hoping she wouldn’t follow me. I needed to get to the Doctor fast.
Transfixed, I looked down at the baby, who wasn’t moving. He was such a tiny little thing but what a strange awful color his face and body were.
It had been only a few minutes since the mother slammed open the waiting room door, but it seemed like forever and I wanted to get away from the bundle I was holding. It couldn’t be a real baby.
Hurrying to the Doctor, I quickly interrupted him with his last patient and called him into the hallway. I showed him the baby, and his kind face crumpled as he saw the tiny infant. “Let me get this patient out of here.”
I could hear the mother crying and muttering to herself. “My husband is going to be furious. He’ll take his anger out on me.”
I felt that the woman had forgotten about the mustard yellow baby she had thrust into my arms. It appeared the only issues she had now, were how her husband would react and about her safety with him.
Dr. Norman hurried the patient out the back door.
We went into a sterile exam room with only a couple chairs and an exam table. He tenderly took the baby out of my arms and examined him. “Julianne, please bring the woman into the room.”
I went back to the waiting room and led the mother to the Doctor. She had quieted down some. After asking her some questions Doctor Norman gently told her “The baby has been dead for at least a couple of hours, there is nothing I can do.”
Turning toward me the Doctor said, “Please, step out of the room with me Julianne.” In the hallway he told me, “Call the coroner. Tell him I need him to come out and to bring a carrier for a rather small baby”.
“I’ll do that right now.” My eyes were watering as I thought of what was happening. As soon as I hung up from the Coroner, I felt weak, almost too tired to finish with this situation. I heard the door to the waiting room fly open. A red faced man wearing a dark frown, who seemed very agitated, shoved me out of his way as he went into the open exam room. I followed him trying to stop him so the Doctor could warn him.
He gasped as he saw his baby son dead, lying on the table. He paled and appeared to be suspended in pain, not moving a muscle, staring at the baby with his mouth hanging open.
The Doctor softly explained, “It was Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). No one knows why this happens and no one should be blamed. I’m so sorry for your loss. I wish there was something I could do, but there isn’t. I’ll leave you to be with your baby now.” He walked out of the room for about fifteen minutes. Then he went back in to talk to the parents some more.
I wondered what the stunned parents were feeling.
As I turned around, the Coroner was walking through the back door. There was a strange smell about him. He was carrying this little rectangular box with clasps to hold the lid down and a carrying handle on the top. Immediately, I realized what that box was for. I had to run to the bathroom to throw up.
How could anybody put a little baby in an ugly box like that and just carry it out like a briefcase or lunchbox? How could they?
I peaked in to make sure the Coroner made his way into the examination room. The mother, almost comatose by now, the father still in shock, the Coroner and the Doctor all began signing papers. When the signing was finished, the family left minus a baby. My heart went out to this family.
Doctor Norman peeked out of the exam room door, “Julianne, please come in and watch the Coroner put the baby into this box. I’m sorry, but you will have to sign a form as a witness to this action.”
After the Coroner left, The Doctor and I went into his office for a short breather. He groaned and his hands started shaking. He rubbed the back of his neck, then said, “I’m very sorry you had to go through this experience.”
Doctor, “What happens in these babies? What is it that causes them to die?”
“Julianne, it’s a mystery. It is the sudden and unexplained death of an infant who is usually under one year old.”
“Can’t the parents get some help for these babies?” My voice cracked as I talked.
“The babies appear to be healthy, Julianne.” He shook his head.
“But don’t they fight to breathe?”
“There is no evidence of suffering,” His shoulders sagged as if he felt defeated. “After so many years there is very little known about this terrible Syndrome.”
Dr. Norman looked at me with watery red eyes and said softly, “go home Julianne. Tomorrow is a new day.”
Feeling overloaded, I just wanted to get home. I was beginning to feel numb. I could still hear the mother’s screams echoing in my ears. The look on the Father’s face, and the yellow baby in the box kept coming back to me.
I took a deep breath, frustrated, and angry. Why did a tiny baby die for no reason?
The painful images of the last hour—was it only an hour—kept running through my head. I was seventeen years old, coming from a sheltered life. It was difficult to believe all that was going on. I only knew that I was scared, cold and shaking.
With a sigh of relief I was glad this day was over.
Yes, I will never forget the day I met SIDS.
Afterthought: Almost sixty years later, there is still little known about SIDS.
Story by: Judi A Plante
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