David G. Thoele, MD

Advocate Lutheran General Children’s Hospital, Park Ridge, Illinois, United States

Poet’s statement: This poem is about my patient Aaron, who was born, immediately became very sick and blue, and later the same day, died in his parents' arms. Aaron had severe congenital heart disease, which we ultimately concluded was not compatible with life. Aaron’s parents and I made the difficult decision not to embark on a risky course of treatment with aggressive therapy. Although we made what I think was the right decision, it was not an easy decision, and I am grateful to Aaron’s parents for spending every moment of his short life loving him, touching him, kissing him, and holding him. This was a day I will never forget. This is published with permission from Aaron’s parents, Samantha and Chuck.

 

No good options

 

What do you do
When you go through the options
And the only choices
Are bad ones?

The baby was born
Beautiful on the outside
Badly made heart inside
A tough situation
A dark place

I tried hard
So very, very hard
To keep him alive
But nothing worked

What do you do
When you go through the options
And the only choices
Are bad ones?

Should we put him on bypass, with no end in sight?
Or cardiac cath?
Looking for a pulmonary artery
Or a pulmonary vein
That probably doesn’t even exist

Should we do
A series of operations
To keep him alive
A few days
A few weeks
Maybe even a year

At great cost
Living in the hospital
And in the end
He’d still be dead

My surgeon said
Few reported cases
Rare condition
No survivors

What do you do
When you go through the options
And the only choices
Are bad ones?

If I were he
What would I want
In this hopeless situation?

I’d much rather be
Held by my mother
Held by my father

Don’t poke needles into me
Don’t send me to the cath lab
Don’t cut my chest
Or give me CPR
To no end

I tried my best
To explain the whole
Miserable situation
To his mother and father

What do you do
When you go through the options
And the only choices
Are bad ones?

We talked and we cried
So real
Yet feeling unreal
At the same time

Among the paths
Open to us
We finally decided
What to do:

No superhuman measures

So he spent his last hours
On the day he was born
Away from machines
Away from frantic medical personnel
In a quiet room

Alone with his family
In his mother’s arms
And his father’s embrace
Surrounded by light
Surrounded by love

 

 

 

baby
Photography by Katrina Harrison


DAVID G. THOELE, MD, completed medical school at the University of Minnesota, pediatric residency at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, and fellowship in pediatric cardiology at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City.