1. Greland-Goldstein, Joan MA, RN


A girl, a suitcase-a nurse who can't forget.


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If I had known how much anguish it would lead to, I might have been tempted not to answer my pager when it went off on that quiet Sunday morning in May. Instead, I innocently dialed the number.

Figure. Illustration... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. Illustration by Anne Horst

"Cafeteria," said the voice that answered.


"Hi, this is the nursing manager. Did you page me?"


"We need you right away. A child's alone down here."


In the cafeteria I approached the bevy of workers huddled by the phone. "The little girl's over there," one of them said, pointing.


A small child was sitting quietly at a table halfway down the room. She had a round face and light brown hair pulled back with a pink barrette, soft curls falling below her ears. There were no toys or food in front of her on the table. I can't believe she's sitting still with nothing to entertain her, I thought. When my two boys were her age, one would have been clutching the neck of his favorite stuffed cat, the other picking fuzzies off his special blanket.


"What's the story?" I asked.


"She's by herself. We thought her mother was in line getting breakfast. We asked everyone if they knew the girl, but no one did."


As I walked slowly up to the child, I made eye contact and smiled. She smiled shyly back at me.


"Hi, sweetie. What's your name?"


A tiny voice answered, "Gina."


"Where's your mommy?" Wide brown eyes. No response.


"How old are you?" Two little fingers went up in the air.


I noticed a small suitcase under the table by her feet. "Is this yours?" I asked. Again, no response.


I opened the suitcase. Inside were clean, neatly folded clothes. Where were her toys and books? A search revealed nothing to identify her. I was praying an irate mother would storm up to me, demanding to know why I was rifling through her daughter's suitcase. It didn't happen.


I already knew what steps to take. Six months earlier I had dealt with a newborn abandoned by her mother.


Before calling social services, I took care of the basics. 'Are you hungry, sweetie?" A small nod.


I held out my arms. She eagerly reached out in return. Two arms clasped my neck, two legs curled around my waist.


Gina was tiny, but she seemed healthy and well nourished. Someone had taken good care of her. How devastating it must have been to leave her. What had happened?


She clung to me so tightly I probably didn't have to hold on to her. All she wanted was a carton of milk.


I started to make the many phone calls. Hospital social services, who contacted city social services. The police department. The hospital administrator on call for the weekend. Through everything, Gina never released her grip. She neither cried nor fussed nor talked. She paid attention to everything that transpired and nodded or shook her head if I asked her a question. Eventually I was instructed to turn Gina over to a police officer. He'd take her to the caseworker, who'd place her in a foster home.


Strapping Gina into the back seat of the police car was one of the most painful moments of my life. She had barely been out of my arms since I first picked her up in the cafeteria. She had been stoic when she was originally abandoned, had been quiet all day as I made calls on her behalf, but as soon as I put her in the police car she began crying hysterically. I talked to her soothingly, reassuring her that she'd be all right. It didn't work. She just looked at me with tear-filled eyes, sobbing and reaching out to be picked up again. I finished fastening her in, gave her a final hug and kiss, and shut the door, tears streaming down my face. That was the last I saw of her.


The next day I was interviewed by a local TV station.


"Tell us about the baby abandoned in your hospital yesterday."


"She was about two years old, adorable, and well behaved. I wanted to take her home with me!!" I said, hoping whoever had abandoned Gina was watching.


My "15 minutes of fame," all because of a frightened, abandoned little girl.


I anguished for weeks about this beautiful child, wishing I had said some magical words to social services so she could have come home with me. I prayed she had been placed with loving foster parents who would cuddle her and soothe away her fear and confusion.


Gina must be in her 20s today, but I still see her as the little girl sitting quietly at the cafeteria table waiting for someone to come back to her.