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A Piece of My Mind
March 20, 2018

Collateral Damage

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts
  • 2Department of Medicine, Boston Children’s Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts
  • 3Department of Pediatrics, Boston Medical Center, Boston, Massachusetts
JAMA. 2018;319(11):1093. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.2183

Your cry is more of a whimper, as if you quickly learned to dampen it in fear of retaliation. Alone in your crib, your tiny body makes the private room where I come to examine you each day seem gigantic. Even before they banned your parents from the hospital, I never once saw them visit you.

The nurses tell me that hospital volunteers hold you at times during the day, but I’ve never seen them either. I wonder if one of them left that pink ribbon in your hair. It gives the impression that you are loved and cared for, when the reality is much more complicated. I recall the work of Harry Harlow, the esteemed psychologist I studied in college. Gloomy black-and-white videos of rhesus monkeys raised in isolation, clinging desperately to wire-and-cloth scarecrow mothers. Lack of touch can be the difference between life and death for some babies.