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In Full Metal Jacket, the doorgunner, responding to the question of how someone could kill a child, says that it’s easy. “You just don’t lead them as much.” Perhaps black comedy is emblematic of the debacle that was Vietnam, but the line for me has always shown such a callous disregard for the life of children that it’s a movie I will never watch again. Once was more than enough. Killing children should never be the point of any joke.
After I got out of the Army, I became a respiratory therapist. In that role, I got to meet the Grim Reaper on a daily basis. When I heard “Code Blue,” I ran to wherever that loss of cardiopulmonary activity was reported and did my best to wrest back that life from the great beyond. We were successful about 30% of the time. When God calls, no one gets to put Him on hold.
I saw a lot of people who were 50, 60, or 70 years old who spent their last minutes on earth with a plastic tube down their airway and me or one of my colleagues pounding on their chest. We did our best. We always did our best. We didn’t care what race they were. We didn’t care what sex they were. We just did our best every time. It really stunk when we couldn’t resuscitate someone, but those were the way the breaks went in that game, and while we didn’t like it, we accepted that result. A 70-year-old patient had lived his life. We were trying to get him another day, another week, sometimes only another month. But, we accepted the inevitability of the end of human existence as a cost of doing business.
Perhaps I should say that we accepted that most of the time.
I dreaded calls to the Emergency room between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. While you occasionally got your Monday morning heart attack, all too often it was a child that had sudden infant death syndrome, and in spite of everything we did, a child died and a family was devastated. Even the most jaded among us couldn’t laugh that one off.
I remember a child I cared for in the nursery. He was full-term, delivered normally, but he began to crash right after his bath. We intubated, ventilated, and gave medications to stabilize for a transport to the local level-three nursery. But that nursery was full, and so a more distant nursery sent their helicopter.
They refused to take the child with them. He had Potter’s Syndrome. Tied to a lack of amniotic fluid, Potter’s babies have no kidneys, sometimes no adrenal glands, and hypoplastic lungs and heart. There is literally no way to save them. The pediatrician was a big man, a man’s man, and he couldn’t stop himself from crying. We all did. It was a tragedy none of us could have done anything about, but we still felt like we had failed.
Genetic and developmental abnormalities resulting in death were bad. Drowning, electrocution, poisoning, and other accidents were awful too, but they were not the worst.
One bright Friday morning I was called to the ER for an inbound baby of about six months. When he arrived he had very shallow respirations and even at first glance you could tell there was something wrong with his head. The head radiograph showed a pattern I had never seen before except in junk cars with broken safety-glass. The image looked like this image found with DuckDuckGo.
The child went for emergency surgery for his swelling brain. Every possible measure was taken to save his life, but in spite of that, the swelling inside the brain was too great. When the swelling inside the brain causes the pressure to be greater than the blood pressure pumping blood into the brain, the brain suffocates and dies. The body follows. All of us in that ICU knew how the situation would end. There were a lot of red eyes in the unit that day.
Mom was devastated but hopeful, even though the doctors told her not to be. She watched the infant’s heart develop bradycardia (slowed heartbeat) and then stop. She told us she was sure we were messing with the monitor. She refused to accept that her baby was dead. But he was dead, and when that painful reality hit her, the wail she let go with is something no one should have to hear. She collapsed on the floor. She clung to the bed. She did not want to leave the room. And that cry: It was a human soul being ripped from its moorings.
The police arrested the boyfriend. He admitted that the mom asked him to watch the baby while she worked. The boyfriend (it’s always the boyfriend, not the father) got tired of the baby crying and just “squeezed the top of his head till he heard a pop.” He just wanted to sleep. He “didn’t mean to hurt the damned brat.” I guess he had never heard of a pacifier or a bottle. There was no way to know how long the child’s brain was injured before mom got home, noticed something wrong, and raced with him to the ER. She was not jailed. The boyfriend got seven years for manslaughter. Seven years in Illinois meant out in three. That was hard to take.
I saw a number of children abused and neglected in that role, and every one of them hurt. As a lawyer, I doubt I could effectively represent someone who intentionally injured a child. All lives matter, but you’ll be lying if you say you do not place a higher value on some lives. For example, your own, your family’s. Children matter.
That’s why two events from yesterday’s news feed really bother me. The first involved a Wisconsin police officer, on suspension because the mob came for his job, who had a brigade of BLLM (Black Liberal Lives Matter) protesters show up at his home, assault him when he tried to reason with them, and then fire a shotgun blast into the house where his children stayed. I can understand being angry at someone, I can even understand the psychoses that leads someone to shoot at a grown man. I can’t understand, nor would I be able to forgive, someone that shot at a child. And, if black lives matter, does wearing a blue uniform mean that a person is no longer black? And if that’s so, what about black children of a police officer? Do they lose their “blackness” by virtue of being the offspring of a police officer? I assume the “protesters” did not know he had children in the house. Who would knowingly shoot at a child?
A monster would. That’s what I found when I went to this website. Read the story, and watch the report. A neighbor, upset because a child was riding a bike on his lawn, runs up to him, and simply executes him with a shot to the head. What kind of monster does that? What kind of person feels so passionately about their grass that they would shoot a five-year-old child in the head?
I’m not an angel. I’ve done some mean things in my life. I’ve certainly had my fill of children screaming their lungs out at 30,000 feet. I dread getting on an airplane with children for that reason. But I understand that it’s pain they’re feeling and I am not mad at them, I’m mad at the adult that’s making them experience that pain without a plan for dealing with it. I don’t understand how anyone could knowingly and intentionally harm a child.
Children screw up. They make mistakes. They learn from them. That this little boy won’t be able to learn from his, and that the monster who allegedly killed him will likely plead out to something that will get him something less than the death penalty are equally upsetting. The shooting was witnessed. There is no doubt about guilt (allegedly). The only real defense is mental disease or defect, and the taxpayers in that county will pay a public defender to hire a psychiatrist (and the DA will do the same) and at some point, there will be accountability if he doesn’t plead guilty sooner or get sent to the hospital for the criminally insane.
It is long past time to make the penalties for assault with intent to kill, murder, and other crimes committed against children carry the same penalty, and the same sentences, as crimes against adults.
Because what we have now is not protecting our children.Published in