The Hit and Run Boy: True Moments from the ER

By J. L. Thurston

In the ER, the trauma code was called for the hit-and-run boy. He was found by police after an unknown amount of time lying on the road in a pool of congealing blood. No witnesses, and the driver who ran him down was long gone.

Wheeling in on the cart, under the fluorescent lights, the boy was unresponsive. The ER team swarmed him in a well-coordinated dance of hands and medical equipment. It was an emergency parade with paramedics, police, nurses, X-ray, lab techs, respiratory, the works. Just outside the trauma room, I waited. Being the CT tech, I could do nothing to help the boy besides be available to scan him once he was stabile enough to survive time on my table. It can be a helpless feeling, but I’m grateful for my role.

I watched the scene, not my first like it, after what had already been a hell of a day. I had been cussed-out for making a patient lay flat on his back so I could scan his head for two minutes. I had been thrown up on by a woman who had her face bloodied by her boyfriend. My phone rang incessantly because a doctor was demanding his patient be scanned before all the others so he could go to bed. And now I stood in the ER, watching this kid struggle to stay alive.

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Moments like these can make you question everything. To know that someone could run over a child and leave them there to die… Certainly, it was an accident, but there’s no excuse for driving off.

There was the ER team, with all their years of training and experience, hell-bent on reversing the damage as much as humanly possible. It didn’t matter that a paramedic was going on 14 hours and had a newborn at home. The personal problems that the nurse had been dwelling on all day couldn’t be further from her mind at that moment. It didn’t matter that the trauma surgeon had just gotten back in his car to finally leave when the hit-and-run boy’s case called him right back in. Only one thing mattered to all those people at that moment; save the boy.

On the chair in the trauma room was a pile of blood-soaked clothes, so small, and a pack of Hubba-Bubba sticking out of his torn jeans pocket. This boy was someone’s treasure, someone’s entire life was devoted to him. His mother was probably clutching her phone in her hands, desperate to know why he never came home from the park. I wished at that moment that she could somehow know that the boy was not alone. From a mother’s perspective, I know she’d take great comfort in the knowledge that her boy was surrounded by angels.

Meanwhile, the drunk down the hall was spouting a belligerent argument. The mental health patients were screaming and lamenting. The drug seekers were checking the clock every four minutes, wondering where their nurse had gone. The hospital is a theater of human weakness and suffering. It’s no wonder healthcare workers burn out a little bit every day. I know I’m not the only one who spends the majority of my shift internally screaming.

Strung out, stressed, abused, tired, we humans have this amazing ability to ban together to fight for someone’s life. It is a miracle to witness such events in the ER, to feel all the day’s burdens fall away so we can do all we can for someone in need. I was reminded of that feeling again that day with the hit-and-run-boy.

At long last, he was stabilized. The surgeon and his team had put in a chest tube to drain the blood, the techs had inserted a urinary catheter, while respiratory therapy intubated him. The nurses had fluids and antibiotics running, the X-ray tech had swiftly taken the images needed to maintain his care, while the helicopter team arrived to fly him to the children’s hospital trauma unit. He left us without ever waking up, without ever seeing the faces or consciously feeling the hands of those who had worked tirelessly to sustain his life.

With the trauma gone, we had to move on to the next thing on our list of urgencies. We returned to the frequent flyers, the 10-out-of-10 pains, the waiting-for-a-hot-meal people. We should have been exhausted, done for the day, after such an experience. But that’s the secret power of healthcare workers. We can’t afford to be exhausted when we aren’t done with the day’s work.

And that was just another day, much like all the others before it and long after it. The hit-and-run boy was followed by the rollover-family, the no-carseat-kids, and the wedding-party-catastrophe. I scan these people, pondering the choices made, the chances of bad fortune, and the purpose of it all. In all those situations, I tell myself that everything happens for a reason, and there’s nothing I can do to change a thing. The small help I lend with my CT scans has to be enough for me, because it’s needed. I can’t make that driver who hit that little boy change what he did. In the end, we all just have to do the best we can and hope for a positive outcome.

To those who are curious, the boy did not make it. He passed while still in the helicopter. I have no wisdoms, no insights that can shed light on his death. Someone ran him over and left him to die. And die he did. Will that person ever receive true justice? Probably not, because one pain can never equal another without causing more people more pain. And that is not justice. All that can be done is absolutely nothing. We just move on. In the ER, in life, but never truly in our hearts. Even patients who barely pass by never really leave us. The-hit-and-run-boy taught me a lesson on human mistakes, cruelty and connection. That’s all that can be said.