It was a peaceful day in the pediatric emergency department. For a change, we were overstaffed for our current patient load. In fact, I had just started a water gun fight with saline syringes. That’s when it happened.
The tracker board lit up with a notification that a 3-year-old girl who had just been run over by a car was en route.
She wasn’t doing well. Her blood stained the Frozen shirt she was wearing. She needed immediate intubation. She received blood products, chest tubes, and even neurosurgical intervention. We worked for hours, trying everything possible.
She didn’t make it.
In that moment, I couldn’t help but think about my own 3-year-old. In fact, I couldn’t help but think about all 7 of my children and my beautiful bride. I called them on my way home, as the loss of my tiny patient weighed heavily on my heart. Despite my own tears, it calmed me to hear the chaos that my wife and I call normal going on around her. All I could hear was laughing and screaming as our children circled her. I couldn’t wait to dive into that rowdy, raucous, life-affirming melee.
Just like every other day, I walked through the door of my house, and there it was—the daddy dance.
The “daddy dance” is what my wife and I call our kids’ reaction when I get home from work. They sing, scream, and dance. Imagine being circled and serenaded with made-up songs filled with shouts and laughter. It’s amazing! Within two strides of the door, I become a jungle gym, with children hanging off of every extremity.
I realize this may not sound like everyone’s idea of the most relaxing end to a stressful day. But to me, it’s a sweet dream. That day in particular, the tragedy and stress of the job seemed to melt away. The daddy dance refocused my thoughts on what is important to me. It is my escape, my retreat, and my freedom.
While nothing can — or even should — change the sorrow and empathy we feel for our patients, the daddy dance is my safe haven.
What is yours?
Residency and emergency medicine are hard. I can’t think of a more stressful situation than to voluntarily be part of someone’s worst day, every day. But this is what we chose. To many of us, it’s a calling. In an environment like that, it’s more important than ever to find a way to vent and stay sane. You have to find your “daddy dance.”