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A Piece of My Mind
December 27, 2016

Bearing the Silence of Tragedy

Author Affiliations
  • 1Division of Pediatric Critical Care Medicine, Mattel Children’s Hospital, University of California-Los Angeles; and David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California-Los Angeles
JAMA. 2016;316(24):2599-2600. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.11184

Another email from my teenaged daughter’s school came across the screen of my phone. Normally, I sort of ignore them, but this one caught my eye: “We regret to inform you of the passing of … .” Thinking that adolescents are of the age when grandparents often begin to pass on, I assumed that this was the case. It was not. I was horrified to see that it was one of the students. What happened, a teenager dying? How can this be?

It is not that I am unfamiliar with the death of a child, always remembering that every child is someone’s child. In fact, by the nature of what I do, I have become sort of an expert on death in the pediatric realm. I am a pediatric intensivist in a large quaternary intensive care unit in a children’s hospital in a large city. In our unit, on average, some 40 children die each year. Of course, the vast majority of these children have suffered from some devastating disease or occasionally an injury or drowning. Each of these children is cherished by his or her parent(s) or others. My colleagues and I each mourn these deaths in our own way. Some have more impact than others naturally, some we know the child or the family more, some are just tragedies. What we all fight against is becoming inured to such suffering, not just another death. Where does my response to the tragedy in my daughter’s school come from, and is there a lesson for others?

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