“I just finished my 2 hour notes. Could you check them and tell me if they’re OK?” I ask the intern.
I am a third-year medical student let loose on the wards for less than 48 hours and I’m still scared out of my mind. Scared about saying the right thing to the patients, doing the right things for the residents and attending, and bascially knowing what I’m supposed to be doing.
There’s also a little excitement mixed in with the fear. I’m proud of myself for learning how to write a SOAP note. The team seems to appreciate my eagerness and curiosity. Most importantly, I’ve just witnessed the miracle of birth. Little did I know that within an hour I would experience tragedy.
“No problem. Why don’t you try to get some shut eye for an hour or so,” responds the intern.
I agree and head toward the call room. In my mind I’m going over the women in labor and I’m trying to calculate who will be next to deliver and when. None seem very close so I feel safe going to bed. I let the exhaustion that has been lurking around the edges of my consciousness creep into the forefront of my mind.
Suddenly, I hear the overhead pager cackle, “Resident to room 5. STAT.” This is the signal that delivery is imminent. I wheel around and head for room 5 at a brisk trot. If I’m the first one in the room, there is a chance that the resident will let me deliver the baby. As I’m running to the something is nagging me though: I cannot remember which patient is in room 5. Did I forget to write a note on this lady? Will I get in trouble?
I burst into the room. A gush of satisfaction fills me; I’m the first one in the room. I even beat the resident. Almost as quickly, the satisfaction is replaced with unease. Something is wrong in this room. The lights are dimmed. There is only one nurse in the room and she sits next to the bed; not standing at the foot as I had seen during the first delivery earlier that day. None of the usual sterile supplies wait for the resident in the corner.
I notice that I’ve been standing immobile in the doorway for a few seconds. The bed slowly draws me nearer. Nothing could prepare me for the sight I was about to see.
People often say that childbirth is the most painful experience a human could have. I think they’re right…if they are speaking of birth from the child’s perspective. A baby’s pain begins by being driven from its wet, warm home, a home with a direct food line right to its belly. Then the baby has its head contorted and squeezed through a tube. But the most painful experience in humanity is a person’s first breath. At that moment oxygen sears the lungs for the first time ever leading to a change in pressure in the chest cauing the walls of the heart to slam shut. Welcome to the world.
Lying on the bed between his mother’s legs was a baby boy no bigger than a pear. He was wriggling and squirming in a puddle of puss; sucking for air so hard that the skin was being pulled between his ribs. He was fighting; fighting pain, cold, infection, the unknown. Despite the sheer agony he was experiencing, something inside him told him to keep battling, life is worth it.
The resident enters the room a few seconds behind me. She quietly and calmly picks up the palm-sized human, wraps him in a blanket, and hands him to his mother. With nothing left for us to do, the resident and I leave. In the hall she explains to me that the amniotic fluid got infected and caused the bag to break, leading to the baby being partially born. When the mother came to the hospital there was nothing to do but give her medicine to make her uterus contract and finish the delivery. The baby never had a chance.
For him, the victory was gained not in the living but in the fighting. By fighting, by squirming, kicking and trying to suck air into lungs that would not fill, he gave us evidence that life did dwell in him.
After a short 19 weeks in his mother’s womb and three long hours in his mother’s arms, the nameless boy died.