Jason Simpson is a second-year student at Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine-Auburn Campus (VCOM-Auburn) from Amory, Mississippi. He and his wife, Morgan, have been married for almost four years, and they have a two-year-old son named Owen.
At the tail end of his first year at VCOM-Auburn, Jason and his wife became pregnant with their second son, Gideon. Sadly, it was discovered early on that Gideon had multicystic dysplastic kidneys, a condition which he would tragically not be able to overcome once he was born. Here is that story from Jason’s perspective.
On Sept. 16, 2017, my wife and I held our day-and-a-half-old son Gideon in our arms as he passed from this life into the next. We found out early on that he had some type of bilateral multicystic renal dysplasia, but we are still awaiting testing to determine the cause. In the short time he was with us, Gid gave us so many little gifts, but the most incredible of these must be perspective.
Summing up our prenatal journey with Gideon is simple: It got worse every time we had an appointment. First, his kidneys were huge and underperforming. The next visit, they were bigger still and there was no measurable amniotic fluid. We were told he did not even have a 1% chance of survival.
We drove to Cincinnati to speak with specialists there about a possible experimental treatment. And as we traveled this arduous road, our coursework at school began to cover the kidneys. I distinctly remember sitting in class when multicystic dysplastic kidneys were shown on the screen for the first time. It flashed up on the screen, the professor said it was not compatible with life, and that was it. This monster that my wife and I had been wrestling with for weeks was taught in four minutes across three slides.
I wasn’t mad, or even upset. I just remember that I began to think back over all the other conditions that had been taught so briefly, the ones I had studied quickly so I could focus on the “heavy hitters” that may get their own lecture. And I began to realize the tremendous weight that each condition had. I could not even begin to count the entirety of the diseases we had learned, but now I understood that so many of them resulted in heartache for those involved, entailing the loss of a child, a healthy life given sudden brevity, or some other monstrous burden laid on their shoulders.
The easiest thing to do after suffering a tragedy is to put distance between you and anything that might remind you of your adversity. However, my wife and I realized something very early on. All around us are people who have experienced similar pain, and one of the most effective ways to approach monumental grief is to be hand-in-hand with someone who has endured it firsthand.
One day, I will be sitting down with a family to deliver a difficult diagnosis much like the one we received, and in that moment, I have two options. I could emotionally disconnect; presenting the facts and most likely offering a mumbled “I’m sorry” as I leave the room. Or I can help guide them through their new reality by allowing them to see into my own experience with grief.
Author Levi Lusko in his book “Through the Eyes of a Lion: Facing Impossible Pain, Finding Incredible Power” talks about how experiencing tragedy is a “terrible privilege.” What this means is that those who choose to use their heartache to help others in similar circumstances can make a tremendous difference, but it comes at great cost.
As you watch patients, friends, and family trudge through their grief, you will be taken back to re-experience what was most likely your darkest hour. However, I believe that that is the definition of true selflessness. Because as you continually re-enter that place of immense pain for someone else’s benefit, those you help will soon realize that the darkness that seems to be so insurmountable is undoubtedly conquerable.
That hope is one of the greatest ways a physician can care for their patients. To be clear, we aren’t giving them a false hope that we will, without a doubt, cure what ails them. That would be undeniably cruel. Instead, we are providing a light in the darkness, the knowledge that the cloud hanging over them will break. As a future physician, I am resolved to stay vulnerable for this very purpose. The day that I close my emotions off from my patients is the day that I cease to truly care for them.
Gideon lived for only 34 hours and 42 minutes, yet his profound influence on me will impact every patient who ever enters my practice. Because of him, I hope to hurt with each family I care for. Being jaded in the face of such sadness would allow me to escape some of the pain, but uniting with those who hurt to give them courage in their fight, to me, is what being a physician is all about.