Medicine from the heart . . . Kathryn Wilson

May 12, 2011

Each Thursday, the Daily Voice showcases selected Thursday Morning Memos, reflective essays about clinical experiences written by faculty, alumni, residents and students of the Department of Family Medicine & Community Health and, occasionally, contributors from other departments. Thursday Morning Memos is UMass Medical School’s homegrown version of narrative medicine, in which the authors process their experiences through writing. To learn more, visit:

Kathryn Wilson, a second-year resident at Barre Family Health Center, shares a moving experience from labor and delivery. Thursday Morning Memo founder and moderator Hugh Silk, MD, wrote, “When she sent me the email, she wrote: ‘[This event] affected me a lot and I wrote my reflection. I thought if you liked it you could use it for the Thursday memo, but please don't feel obligated. I wrote it just to help clear my thoughts in my head.’ This is exactly what I had hoped the memo would become—a place for providers to reflect, clear their head and share with others. Thank you Kathi.” 

Kathryn Wilson

Helping with a loss

He was from a different culture. He had a different religion. I was not familiar with either. I hadn’t met him yet. I was told by my colleague the story of the woman who was 16 weeks, who delivered her baby in the bathroom of triage. How they made sure she was stable and sent her home. For cultural reasons, they did not want an autopsy and just wanted the hospital to dispose of the baby. I was told about her just in case she came in with bleeding or fevers. Just so I would be aware. I never thought I would be meeting with the father instead of her. 

The nurse called me over and told me he was asking to bring his baby home to bury his baby. My heart went out to him. I was not sure how I would deal with this. I called my attending in order to find the right words and to calm myself down. I talked to the nurses prior to bringing him into the room in order to get a plan. 

The two nurses and I brought him to the room where his baby was. He was well dressed, he was nervous; he had his little girl with him, about 3-years old in a black dress. I introduced myself and shook his hand and the little girl put her hand out so I would also shake hers. My heart was breaking further. 

We entered the room and I asked him what brought him back to the hospital. I could feel myself choke up and I kept trying to calm myself down and stay strong. He stated that it was his duty as the man in the family, as the father, to bury his child. His religion states he needs to wash his baby, place a white cloth around his baby and bury his baby just like any other death in the family. It doesn’t matter the age of the baby, it was his duty to give his baby the proper burial. 

I knew the policy. I knew what I needed to tell him, but my heart went out for him at that very moment. I was able to stay calm and explain the policies to him. I watched his face as he started to tear up. He tried to stay calm. He wasn’t sure what to do; he respected our policy, but he knew his duty as a father. 

We gave him a moment to himself, so he could call his wife, and they could decide what to do. When he was ready, he walked out to get us. He stated again: I need to wash my baby; I need to wrap my baby in a white cloth and the hospital can dispose of my baby. We brought him over to look at his baby; so tiny, just the size of the palm of his hand. I tried to read his face, he looked so stoic. He was trying to do the right thing for his religion, for his culture, for him and his family. I could not imagine all the thoughts running through his head at that very moment. 

And then his 3-year-old daughter dropped her drink and it spilled everywhere. I saw him rush over to help her and I told him to go back to his baby, and I would take care of the spill. As I was cleaning up the apple juice, I watched him wash the baby and place the baby on the cloth and wrap the baby up. He then washed his hands, thanked us and said "I did my duty as a father to the best of my ability with these circumstances. Thank you." 

As I sit here now, I am still a bit choked up. I hope we respected his culture and religion enough. I understand it was not exactly what he hoped and wished for, but I hope he was able to truly do what he needed. I hope we were able to help him get closure, and help him with his loss. I was thankful that the nurse was able to find the baby and that he was able to wash his baby and place his baby in a white cloth. I was thankful that he was able to have a few moments after the shock of the initial loss had worn off.