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Sue Bush
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EMS: Courage And Compassion In Action

By Shawn Godfrey
12:00AM / Monday, March 05, 2007

Village Ambulance Services Operations Manager Shawn Godfrey is also a certified paramedic.
Welcome to "EMS:Courage and Compassion In Action," a weekly column written by Village Ambulance Services Operations Manager and paramedic Shawn Godfrey. Godfrey's columns will appear on Monday and will focus on the reality of the emergency services medical profession.

Because of the multitude of controversies that surround it, I was initially hesitant to write about child abuse and the impact it has on emergency providers.

However, the more I learned about the complexities of this societal epidemic, the more I realized how important it is for the public to recognize the reality of its potential “next-door” presence.

I believe every individual has a responsibility to identify and report information that could provide evidence of child abuse.

Fortunately, pre-hospital emergency cases of child abuse in this area are infrequent, however, when detected, they often involve life-threatening conditions that demand a swift response to treat and transport the victim. For every response, especially in the cases of child abuse, emergency personnel must adapt their senses to their environment and acutely illustrate the surroundings to which they respond.

This story encompasses not only the mistreatment a child endured, but in a broader sense, it’s an account of one mother’s fear and inability to confront an evil that dwelled within the family circle.


With tousled blonde hair and giant green eyes, Seth was seated at the edge of the threadbare sofa. His little fists were clenched tightly around a stuffed dog and tears were running down both his reddened cheeks. Although he was trying to be courageous, he instinctively curled into a fetal position as I entered the room.

Seth was obviously frightened of me.

He was wearing only a pair of tight-fitting shorts, which demonstrated no evidence of a recent laundering, and his arms were covered with what appeared to me to be freshly-inflicted red welts.

Yellowish-green contusions - which remebled the faded tone visible when a bruise is several days old - mottled both his legs, and the soles of his feet were soiled with traces of what appeared to be dried cat litter and hardened feces.

As I gently knelt down to make eye contact with him, I asked “What is your name and how old are you?”

Seth instantly directed his gaze towards his mother, who was standing to my left, as if seeking permission to answer.

“Go ahead and answer the man,” the mother demanded.

"I Am Nine Years Old, Sir"

After a brief delay, Seth timidly answered “My name is Seth and I am nine years-old, sir.”

“What happened to your arms and legs, and what is on your feet, Seth?” I asked.

Again, Seth’s eyes darted anxiously toward his mother, and this time, the mother answered for the child.

“I knew this was a bad idea. I think the boy’s going to be fine. Thanks for all of your help.”

Aware of the probability of child abuse, I convinced the mother that Seth required immediate transport to the hospital, because the multitude of bruises, in proportion to Seth’s body size, could lead to life-threatening internal blood loss.

After a great deal of verbal persuasion, she finally consented.

During the ambulance transport to the emergency room, she told me that Seth had been in the care of his step-father, who was now at work. There was an intial denial that anything violent had happened during the day. She appeared genuinely concerned about the health and welfare of Seth and began to cry.

The mother was hesitant to speak further; her husband told her that she shouldn't tell anyone about their situation because "no one would understand."

From her responses, it became clear to me that the step-father had physically abused Seth.

"Stop! Stop!"

I told the mother that as emergency responders, we are mandated to report incidences that suggest alleged child abuse and we work closely with hospitals as well as child protective services, in order to prevent further harm to the child.

With tears streaming from her frightened eyes, she thought for a second. She rubbed her brow and exhaled a deep breath of air. She finally confessed.

“He told Seth that if he didn’t clean up after the kitten, he would be punished. I was trying to get him to stop, but he kept hitting him with the belt. He grabbed me and threw me to the floor, but I got up and kept screaming, you’re going to kill him! Stop, Stop!”

“I understand where the bruises came from [often symmetrical and at different stages of healing during child abuse], but what is on Seth’s feet?” I inquired.

“Seth was made to stand in the litter box during the beating, because the kitten had soiled the carpet and scratched up my husband’s new leather chair,” she said.

“I was afraid of him. He kept saying if I told anybody about the beatings, he would kill both of us. What was I supposed to do?” she pleaded.

Both Seth and his mother were victims in this tragic whirlpool of physical and emotional abuse.

After Seth received an emergency department medical evaluation, a hospital-based family advocate spoke to him and his mother and eventually persuaded them to talk individually with a social worker.

This ultimately provided the feeling of safety that they both needed before they could freely disclose what happened to them.

Taking The Steps To Create A Change

The hospital staff went to court to testify about what they had observed and been told. They presented the mother’s testimony to the judge, who eventually ruled that the step-father would have no future contact with either of them. Seth, who is now fifteen, is doing well in school and is employed part-time. He and his mother currently reside in an apartment.

I recall a conversation with Seth’s mother just a year ago.

She said, “There are many lessons Seth has taught me. The most important is to never back down; never be afraid to fight for something or someone you love.”

She added, “This experience has carried me through my darkest days and it is a lesson that is always present, even during the happiest moments of my life.”

If you suspect incidences of child abuse, please contact your local law enforcement agency or child abuse prevention center.

To report suspicions of child abuse in Massachusetts call the state's Department of Social Services [DSS]at 1-800-792-5200.

Additional information about reporting child abuse and parental stress hotlines is available at a Internet web site.
Your Comments
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Fantastic story!
from: Stephenon: 03-11 00:00:00-2007

When the chips are down, some people rise up and overcome things. It's nice to read that the boy [Seth] managed to instill a bit of hope in all of us!
from: Theoon: 03-09 00:00:00-2007

Another great story!Stories like this make me sick & repulsed by some people who call themselves a "man". I was pleased that you added how the boy has turned out today. A tragic but hope filled story. Thanks Shawn!
from: Colleenon: 03-09 00:00:00-2007

Very moving story! Dealing with Hurt children is tough enough,But dealing with child abuse will break the even the strongest most experienced EMS providers. My heart hurt just reading the story! Keep the stories coming Shawn.
from: Mentalmedicon: 03-08 00:00:00-2007

The victims of child abuse should be rewarded somehow for having to go through something like this.
from: Heatheron: 03-08 00:00:00-2007

I've worked in the field for many years and can totally relate to what you've written. It is a sad story but one that needs to be told. You put it in a way that the lay people can understand, without overdoing it. Thanks
from: Jonon: 03-08 00:00:00-2007

Was the father/husband prosecuted? I hope so.
from: Owenon: 03-08 00:00:00-2007

Great, but tragic, story.
from: Janiceon: 03-07 00:00:00-2007

If only we actually knew how much this goes on out there. It's scary to think about it. I hope the father was indicted for his actions.
from: Chadon: 03-07 00:00:00-2007

A well written saga of Seth's horrible existence...a real eye-opener to the world of child abuse.
from: Lisaon: 03-07 00:00:00-2007

Wow, Im truly touched. What a sad story within this piece of writing. It makes me cry!
from: James B.on: 03-06 00:00:00-2007

Although this was difficult and tragic to read, I'm glad it worked out for Seth. I also hope and pray for all of the other children who are still out there being hurt.
Thanks for your message Shawn.
from: Jenniferon: 03-06 00:00:00-2007

As always Shaun, an outstanding article. Most importantly though, thank you for reminding us that these cases happen more than we like to think or hear about, and that we all have a duty to make sure these children are safe.
from: Chris Bon: 03-06 00:00:00-2007

Unbelievable! The human race never ceases to amaze me.
from: Weson: 03-06 00:00:00-2007

Thank you for your story I think more people need to hear this, so they know if they need help that its out there. That they do not need to live with a monster.
from: Darleneon: 03-06 00:00:00-2007

Thank you for that sad but touching story! I cant imagine going thru that.(Seth or yourself!) We are all lucky to have such caring and skillful people like you out there helping us!
from: Michelleon: 03-06 00:00:00-2007

Thank you for bringing to light such a tough subject. We should be thankful that there are mandatory reporters that try and save the innocent ones.
from: Susanon: 03-05 00:00:00-2007

As an abused kid, I can tell you things can get better. I work full-time, have 3 kids, and am happily married. Keep up the good work.
from: Daveon: 03-05 00:00:00-2007

Great story! I'm glad things worked out for Seth.
from: Chrison: 03-05 00:00:00-2007

Having been raised in a loving family and being a devoted parent I cannot imagine the kind of person who could inflict such physical and mental pain on a child. Neither can I imagine the horrors that child endures.This story is a somber reminder that we must all be responsible and speak for those who cannot, whether we are mandated to do so or not. Thanks Shawn. ;)
from: gold deuce girlon: 03-05 00:00:00-2007

Shawn, As usual great article. Child abuse is a hard thing to deal with for us that work in EMS. Thank God we don't see a lot of it but when we do we have the education, like this article, to get the right professional people involved. Keep up the great writing. Read ya in two weeks.
from: Chuckon: 03-05 00:00:00-2007

Another good story! , it makes you realize the importance of reporting suspected child abuse!
from: bernieon: 03-05 00:00:00-2007

Often times while working in the EMS/Fire Field we see things that will hang around in our minds forever. There are many ways to "save a life". And these are the ones that are really not taught in a class room or what you can read in a text book.
from: Midnight Medicineon: 03-05 00:00:00-2007

What a troubling story to read. I certainly get the message. Thanks
from: Jakeon: 03-05 00:00:00-2007

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