The Overwhelming Burden of Empathy

The events in Colorado last week have really stirred up some very strong emotions. A 10 year old girl was abducted as she walked to school. She was then murdered. A horrific crime committed against a young girl and her family. How does anyone not feel for this family? For these parents?

During the course of my career, I had to look into the eyes of those parents a multitude of times. The eyes of disbelief. Utter devastation. The immense grief. Searching for something. Some kind of answer. A different answer. But I didn’t have a different answer.

I don’t know if I ran more than my fair share of calls involving kids, but I ran a lot. More than I ever thought I would. These are certainly a very big part of the reason I am no longer in the field. The kids always got to me. I also felt so badly for the parents. The family.

But there was one specific call that affected me more than any other. By far. To this day, I still think about it almost every day. And it happened more than 15 years ago. It was the most horrific accident you can probably imagine. No one did anything wrong, really. Just one of those tragic stories. And a family lost a little boy in an instant.

I won’t go into graphic detail, but the scene was right out of a Hollywood horror flick. The amount of blood was unbelievable. We worked frantically. Did everything humanly possible. Under the circumstances, the call ran well.

As I knelt on the floor, working on this poor kid, all I could hear was his father. Screaming. Crying uncontrollably. Begging us to save his son. To do more. I could see him in my peripheral vision – pacing back and forth. Still screaming. Complete and total agony.

I knew almost as soon as we began what the outcome would be, but I wanted to help this father. I wanted to give him something. Something. Some hope. Some string to hold onto. Something. I could not stop working as long as I heard him crying.

The child never felt any pain. But I could feel the father’s pain. I still do. Or at least as much as I can – I know that what I feel is nothing compared to what this family experienced. Yet the pain crushes me every time I think about it.

I wonder about the family. How are they now? Was the father ever able to recover and move forward? Did my efforts provide him some solace? Did he understand that there was truly nothing we could do? Or did my actions make it tougher on him? Should I have made the horrible decision right then and there that nothing could be done? It eats at me.

Today, I am trying to release that burden of empathy. It is not easy. I know that I made the right decisions at the time. I did what I thought the father and the rest of the family would want – I did everything I could to save his son.

Even now, as I type this, the emotions are strong. The tears are flowing.

What would I say to the father? I want to tell him how sorry I am. How hard I tried. How badly I wanted to reverse what happened that beautiful, spring morning. That awful, horrible spring morning.

What would he say to me?

To the family of the girl in Colorado, all I can say is: I’m sorry. I have looked into your eyes many times before and, while I cannot fully comprehend the depths of it, I know and understand your pain. I feel it too.


One response

  1. […] of the most horrific calls I ever responded to as a paramedic. (The Overwhelming Burden of Empathy  It is one of those calls that lives with you forever. In the years since this tragedy, I have […]

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