By Gary Bachman, MSSW, LSCSW
Our paths had nearly crossed in anonymity, when she stopped. “Excuse me, but you’re Gary, aren’t you?”
It wasn’t an entirely unusual experience. In my work, I meet a great variety of individuals, patients, and their families. Charging into their lives on the heels of a sudden illness or traumatic injury, I play my small part of the virtual “Texas Tag Team” flinging diseased organs, cancerous growths, and tear soaked tissues out of the ring over the top rope.
“You probably don’t remember me.”
“No,” I lied, “I do recognize you, but I don’t recall your name.”
And with a disarmingly warm smile, she nods her head, and looks down at the infant in her arms. “It’s OK. Really. We only met once, and that was almost four years ago. Dr. O’Neil called you and you came in from home….”
And the years evaporated. I knew her story in a flash. It was all there. Mark (Dr. O’Neil) had called at about 9 p.m. on a Friday evening from Labor & Delivery, his voice reflecting an uncommon measure of distress.
We all have our favorite patients or clients or families. And this was such a situation. A young couple, healthy and happy, had successfully struggled to overcome a challenge of infertility. Now in the thirty-eighth week of a cherished pregnancy, the good world of hope and dreams was ripping apart at the seams. Fetal demise, that was the proper term. And in the morning sometime, nature would deliver to the world a new human life. That wasn’t.
I had arrived at the hospital just as the new morning's light was beginning to cast long shadows across the parking lot. Mark met me in his wrinkled blue scrubs and brought me up do date. He’d been up all night, and the lost baby had just been delivered. Mom was okay, and the nurses were right now taking her and her husband back to a private room away from the “mother & baby” unit. That is where I first met this woman who was now standing before me, her and her husband and their newly delivered dream child.
Sadly, it was not an entirely unusual situation, and the established compassionate protocol was attentively followed. Off and on for perhaps four hours, I sat with the family and their new born son, as they closely examined his perfectly formed toes and fingers, the round mottled cheeks, and the soft wavy hair. Perfection gone awry. And at the end of it, all that remains are tiny footprints on paper, a snippet of hair, a Polaroid image, a blue cap, a small blue cotton blanket, and at home an empty crib and freshly painted room. Nothing unusual.
Dredged from the depths of my memory, all the details are there. One family from amongst a crowd of families, and all their tears of suddenly dashed dreams and hopes.
But now I’m looking at this smiling woman standing before me as she shifts her weight to show me the face of the small bundle in her arms. “I saw you, and I immediately remembered you. I had to say something. It’s been four years and it’s okay if you don’t remember me. It was such a brief time we had together. But I remember you. I remember your kind compassion, and your guidance when we’d lost direction.
“And I wanted you to know that sad stories can have happy endings. This is our daughter, Cassandra.” And looking down at the small bundle in her arms, she softly whispers, “Cassandra, this is Mr. Bachman. He knew your brother.”
Gary Bachman is an Associate Professor and the Interim Director of the Undergraduate Social Work Program in the School of Social Work at Park University in Parkville, Missouri. Previously, he rose to the rank of Assistant Professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Kansas School of Medicine and Hospital, where he also provided both inpatient and outpatient social work services to individuals and families. Although clinically licensed, he proudly describes himself as a generalist practitioner. He has been a professional social worker since 1976.