I wasn’t looking forward to working the graveyard shift again and was dragging my feet. I’d been on the ward for over a year and loved babies, but it could get a little monotonous sometimes. I was stationed with the head nurse, old lady Crotchet and our only male nurse, Jenderlaps; why in the hell would a man want to be a nurse? Geeeez. Me? I was the token Hispanic. My credentials sure hadn’t landed me the gig; I’d slid through nursing school by the seat of my minority-laced pants. I’d dubbed this place “Our Lady of the Worthless Miracle,” but for some strange reason, I had a feeling something was about to go down tonight. I stuffed my crap on the bottom shelf of the blue-white checked cubicle and did a quick once over.
The scene around me was pure chaos. Doc Killjoy and the resident, Doc Dubiouse, stood inside the adjoining cubicle huddled over a patients chart; their faces grave. The attending pediatrician, Dr. Lousitup and the Anesthesiologist, Dr. Heven, were rushing a newborn to NICU. A lady appeared out of nowhere. She asked breathlessly, “Is that the Hewitt baby?” Dr. Lousitup muttered something, hauling-ass down the hall with the incubator.
Nurse Crotchet downed a shot of plain black adrenaline and disappeared through the double doors of the OR.
Mrs. Van Buren was a petite, soft-spoken blonde, probably in her mid-forties; she looked tired. “Why did they perform the C-Section so soon? The doctor last night said they had to wait at LEAST eight hours after the second steroid shot before they could even THINK about taking the baby!”
I glanced over at Doc. Killjoy and Doc. Dubiouse and they just turned their friggin’ backs to me. She focused on them; I was merely the vehicle. Nurse Crotchet returned, announcing the daughter was doing fine. Ms. Van Buren’s son-in-law, Mr. Hewitt, followed; His face belied her words.
Doc Lousitup scurried up, explaining that the baby’s lungs were very small for twenty five weeks. Mrs. Van Buren asked if they could “administer respiratory assistance.” He said they couldn’t because the lungs were so small. She couldn’t understand the logic in that, but all he said was he’d “work on the baby for the next hour.”
Then Mrs. Hewitt was wheeled from OR, poles and tubes dangling everywhere. She sure looked messed up and kept on asking for her baby. After they went into her room, Nurse Crotchet said she was assigning me as her floor nurse; that witch hated me from day one.
Dr. Lousitup returned, summoning Mr. Hewitt and Mrs. Van Buren. Using almost the proper amount of respect, he explained that since the baby’s heartbeat had stayed at twenty five, they’d decided to “terminate resuscitation efforts.” They had “called it;” the baby was dead. They’d only worked on her for twenty minutes; I couldn’t believe it! I looked at Nurse Crotchet. Her mouth was hanging wide open, just like mine.
I followed them back to the room. He was big as a line-backer, but Mr. Hewitt wept like a little boy as he held his wife’s hand, “Baby, she didn’t make it.”
Mrs. Hewitt’s pretty face was all scrunched up; her petite body trembled. She flailed her arms, jerking loose her IV. “I want my baby! Why can’t I have my baby?”
Mrs. Van Buren tried to calm her down, but could hardly speak. She turned and ran from the room, meeting Doc. Killjoy outside the door.
She stared at him, wide-eyed; her voice shaking, “Why did you operate? The baby’s heartbeat was normal before. You were supposed to wait for that steroid shot…”
“Do you think I like getting up and coming here at four in the morning to perform a C-Section?” Doc blurted.
Mrs. Van Buren, “So did she have Placenta Abruption?”
“I don’t know, did she?” He said.
“I was standing in the examining room six weeks ago when you told her she did!” She accused. “You drew us a diagram, for God’s sake!”
Standard hospital procedure was to “allow a deceased baby to stay with the mother if the mother so desired.” I could easily understand why Mrs. Hewitt did not “desire” this and so I was sure surprised when Mrs. Van Buren took me aside and asked to see her “granddaughter.” She was taken to the empty room next to her daughter’s. I went along with Nurse Crotchet to get the baby and bring her to the room.
One lone rocking chair sat in the middle of that big, empty room and in it sat Mrs. Van Buren, her nose red and her eyes swollen the size of enchiladas. She was so petite, I thought she’d disappear in that big chair, but she carefully took the bundle from Nurse Crotchet. She gently unwrapped the blanket and there she was; a beautiful miniature doll dressed in a lavender dress, bonnet and booties. “She’s perfect,” She breathed.
I held my breath; I couldn’t take my eyes off of them. I felt it was going through all of our minds; just thirty minutes ago this little baby had been alive, just like us. It was hard to explain something like that, even more hard to understand. Mrs. Van Buren brushed her lips across the tiny, little face. She held the teeny-weeny fingers in her hands, and then removed the booties, counting each little toe. She took the bonnet off and I saw the dark shiny wisp of hair. She cuddled the baby, whispered, and rocked. I guess she forgot we were even there and we quietly slipped out of the room, gently closing the door.
“She’s saying goodbye. Somebody had to do it.” Nurse Crotchet sniffed gruffly. It was the first time I ever saw her cry.
I thought about the last few years I’d struggled in nursing school and about Doc Killjoy and Doc Lousitup with all of their medical degrees. Suddenly, they didn’t seem so superior anymore. I nodded at Jenderlaps with new respect as I followed Nurse Crotchet back to the station. And I held my head a little higher.
Sharon Lynn Van Meter