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On My Mind
March 2014


Author Affiliations
  • 1University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Chapel Hill
  • 2Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Copyright 2014 American Medical Association. All Rights Reserved. Applicable FARS/DFARS Restrictions Apply to Government Use.

JAMA Pediatr. 2014;168(3):203. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2013.4153

Dear future self,

You watched a child die today. He drowned actually, and you stood in a corner, watching. That’s not fair, of course; as a medical student, you were supposed to just observe. There were already 20 people around him, all trying to save his life. Chest compressions. Epinephrine and fluids. Shocks. To no avail. He died, and you watched.

Years have passed by now, so you may have forgotten the incident. He was about 5 years of age, and he didn’t know how to swim. His dad was watching him, and there was a lifeguard on duty. But his dad went to the bathroom and got caught up talking to one of his friends. The lifeguard wasn’t paying attention. The boy was underwater for an unknown period of time, several minutes at least, before he was discovered. The child’s mother found him, and the lifeguard started cardiopulmonary resuscitation. It was a quarter of an hour later before he arrived at the emergency department.

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