* AS I AM by Dr. Karen Pirnot
It was Christmas Eve, 1987 and I was not where I wanted to be. I walked into the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) of the local hospital and inhaled deeply at the misery before me. Children hung on perilously to a life that appeared to rest tenuously on a cliff to nowhere.
I was escorted to Garret’s room. I entered and immediately held back a gasp, bit my lower lip and looked at the floor. I had never before seen such human devastation.
The tiny child in the bed asked me, “Why are you looking at the floor.”
He was a charming child with tubes attached to him and a ventilator that made a noise that seemed to challenge death itself. I said to the child, “Garret, I’m Dr. Pirnot. Dr. Mark wanted me to meet you. I’m not sure what to do but I want to help make things better.”
He looked at me in such a direct manner that I instantly knew this child had aged a lifetime in the eight months since the accident which left him quadriplegic and ventilator-dependent for life. He said simply, “I have a really bad tummy ache.”
My heart fluttered and my eyes danced. Unknowingly, Garret had provided a clue to the healing of his soul. He had told me his tummy hurt and I knew that he could feel nothing below his neck. The hurt was in his brain and I knew just enough about that to begin to think I might play a part in his healing.
Being a Clinical Psychologist, I was also trained in hypnosis. I immediately asked Garret to close his eyes and go to a place of comfort. He chose the beach. I described all the sounds of the beach as well as the olfactory sensations. Garret began to feel the warmth of the sun on his face and he asked to go into the warm Gulf waters of Florida. He asked to hold his mother’s hand as he walked into the waters. He stayed until he was satiated with warmth and love.
When the relaxation imagery was ended, the stomach ache was gone and Garret was amazed. He asked how I did that and I told him I did nothing. I told him I only spoke words and that his mind did the healing. For the first time since his devastating injuries, he had a sense that his life was not totally out of his control.
Garret told me he wished he could hug me and I immediately thought about therapeutic boundaries. I leaned down and placed my head on his left shoulder. I told Garret he could hug me by turning his head and making contact with my head. He did just that and, at that moment in time, we began our seven year adventure together.
Garret in his sip-and-puff wheelchair
Garret with his mom on graduation day