The older I get, the more I realize that everyone bears their own cross and the death of a child is one of the most difficult trials in life. Those who have not experienced it cannot imagine the pain, helplessness, and emptiness of a parent who cannot help their child. These situations are worse when families are left to deal with them on their own.
In 2012, a doctor in the children's emergency department at Bulovka sent us home with our six-month-old baby girl twice. I still have trouble forgiving him, even after all these years have passed. After another sleepless night, we refused to let the same thing happen again. We requested a different pediatrician who suspected pneumococcal meningitis and promptly transported us by ambulance to Karlov’s pediatric intensive care unit.
Once we arrived, we sat in an isolated waiting room filled with pictures of smiling, healthy children thanking the doctors for their dedication. We wished desperately for Juliet’s picture to join theirs soon.
But instead, our worst nightmare came true and the pneumococcus infection that had attacked Juliet's brain was confirmed. All that she had needed was a simple CRP test that costs 2 USD. But it was carried out too late – her levels were already critical.
The details of our painful journey were just beginning to unravel. The possibility of Juliet “just” losing her hearing seemed like a victory to us. But soon, our baby was put into a forced coma, her kidneys stopped functioning, and she was on dialysis. As Juliet’s release date was postponed again and again, I spent hours away from my baby, desperately contacting anyone who I thought might help. But the relief and hope we needed never came. I sang to Juliet all the songs I knew and I know many songs.
We requested a psychologist to help us through this time, but he ended up being a more of a burden and I realized the paradox: a department that serves extreme, life-threatening cases is not likely to have additional resources to help families through this kind of crisis. There wasn’t a therapist to help us process our pain. There wasn’t a doctor to prescribe a sleeping pill for our insomnia. There wasn’t even a priest to baptize sick children, comfort the bereaved, or give the last rites for departing souls.
We received the worst news of our lives in a simple sentence followed by a request to donate our daughter’s heart. Her brain was irrevocably damaged. We agreed to the transplant without hesitation but then, there was nothing left to do but wait for her little body to finally give up. The heart of our 6-month-old, chubby girl was strong and it kept beating for another eight days. I held our baby in my arms, a baby born out of love who, during the short period of time she was with us, brought only joy and happiness to us all. Finally, Juliet went on her final journey, a journey no one comes back from.
After your funeral, we planted a small tree in the arboretum for you, Juliet – a cedar. This year, your dad, brother, little sister, and I checked it and it is growing nicely, bearing a little tag with your name on it.
I'm sending you a kiss to heaven, my Juliet. And so are the mom and dad of the child who carries your strong, beating heart.