Not the happiest thing to have as my first blog entry, but who ever said blogs had to be happy.
I've been working on a children's oncology ward for the past year or so, doing the data collection for our national cancer register and managing the medical files of the patients. One of the children (who for this blog I'll call Max) passed away a few weeks ago from leukaemia. It really is true what they say, "Paediatrics is the best and the worst of medicine".
Usually, I don't have much to do with the children or their family since I work on the administration side of things, but somehow I got to know Max and his parents really well - when that happened he stopped being a medical file and a diagnosis, and become a real person with feelings and a life. For him having been twenty-some years younger than me, we actually shared a similar sense of humour, and both had a love of all things sci-fi.
I'd first met Max about six months ago, and at the time I couldn't figure out who was having a harder time dealing with his diagnosis, him or his parents; though to be honest it was probably his parents, I think it always is the parents who have the harder time coping. I never saw any of his friends up at the hospital, which I later found out from his parents was because the parents were unsure how his friends would cope being around Max at his worst.
I've worked in oncology in one department or another for almost ten years, but it hadn't prepared me at all for working on a children's ward. I've seen patients who have been told there is nothing left that can be done for them, patients who have been told their cancer has come back, and those patients who have been given the really good news that the cancer is gone. And yes, cancer affects not only the patient but also their family. I've lost five members of my own family to cancer over the years and it has always been devastating. Though someone who is eighty or ninety years old and being diagnosed with cancer is one thing, but a ten year old or a teenager is something completely different; it shouldn't be, but for some reason it is.
Today, I was finalising the data collection for the cancer register by entering Max's death record and closing his oncology file to be sent off to our records department. And that was when it really hit me; this fun-loving, carefree twelve year old boy was gone. Oh, I knew he had died, since he had died on the ward whilst I was at work, but this was confirmation he really was gone; he'd never grow up, never have a girlfriend, never get caught sneaking one of his dad's beers, never to college. What I did today was the hospital equivalent of what Max's parents are doing; packing everything up, putting it away, saying "Max is gone so we no longer need this". God, no parent should ever outlive their child.
I've entered death records and closed patient's files before without feeling anything even close to this, but then again they have simply been a medical file with a diagnosis. They weren't a real person with feeling, hopes, aspirations and family, were they? Of course they were, but the difference was I never knew them.
Today made me realise just how much I had come to care about Max and how big of an impact his passing has had on me.
Today has made me decide to get to know the children, the mums, the dads, the aunts, the uncles.
Rest in peace Max.