Don’t forget the new guy
The delivery ward was busy. It was a major hospital and today several mother’s to be had all arrived within a few hours of each other in various stages of labour. My luck was in. Here to complete my ambo obstetric training, being involved in a childbirth seemed a certainty.
The nurse in charge took me to one side and explained that she didn’t want me to simply roam from child birth to child birth. If I wanted to be present, I first needed to invest some time getting to know the parents to be. With their blessing, I could then stay with them. She suggested a room to me.
Timidly opening one of the labour room doors I entered the room. A nurse was evaluating the foetal heart rate and laughing with the mother. The father looked up and smiled. I was in uniform but would don a gown when the green light was given. I shook his hand and introduced myself. The nurse and his wife passed their attention to me now also.
After explaining my reasons for being here I asked them if it would be okay to spend a few hours with them and observe their child’s birth. They were ecstatic. Jim (not his name) was what you would call a ‘good bloke’. He worked in a foundry, he was a bit rough but only over the diamond core. His wife, Jenny (another alias) was full of life and personality. They seemed a good match to me. They had a higher opinion of ambos than even I did and to be able to play this little role was their privilege as far as they were concerned.
The tempo of the day was set. I got to know them and them to know me. This was their first child. They had so many plans and dreams. Great parents surely awaited this little one. They took me through their pregnancy so far, the highs and lows. We talked about all manner, far from confined to the obstetric world. I got to know these people as asked and quickly came to like them.
After repeated assurances that delivery was not imminent, I ventured out briefly for lunch. An hour or so after some real action started. Contractions increased in severity and frequency, analgesia masks came out of cupboard and the nurse now stayed in the room.
Another hour later and my scheduled shift was over. The action though was far from. Permission was granted by the nurse, supported by gentle pleadings from Jim for me to stay ‘all the way’ now. No twist of the arm required.
It wasn’t that much longer and another nurse appeared then a couple of medical students. This was show time. Pushed backward by the business of others, I positioned myself able to watch but still near enough to Jim and Jenny to make eye and nod contact.
Minutes later, events were as I had been taught. The head, shouts to breathe, shouts to push, louder shouts from Jenny, quickly there was a body, legs and a cord. Jim, holding Jenny’s hand, was on his toes watching. Was it a boy or a girl?
Suddenly there was an ominous change in the atmosphere. With cord quickly cut, the baby was passed across from one nurse to another. A button on the wall was pushed and within moments the number of people in the room doubled. A resuscitation trolley pushed through the doors and the ring of people around the baby betrayed something very wrong. Positions changed and my view improved considerably.
Or perhaps it worsened. Fingers were pressing rapidly and repeatedly into the chest of the tiny form. They were doing CPR. My naïve idea of ominous was suddenly replaced with something far more sinister. I couldn’t believe what I was watching. I was totally unprepared for this.
Jim looked at me regularly. His eyes wanted answers. They wanted hope. From me. Jenny looked between her baby and Jim. And occasionally with me. Keeping eye contact with her was hard.
It seemed an age this went on and suddenly everything just stopped. A brief conference then one of them moved to Jim and Jenny. He broke the worst possible news. A small howl came from her then she cried. Jim tried to steady her but his face contorted with grief and anguish. Eventually he could hold it no longer and he turned away into a corner of the room.
A nurse handed Jenny the neatly bundled up tiny form and for a brief moment you could pretend that everything was actually okay, that the last hour had never happened.
That’s the last thing I could tell of though. The charge nurse ushered the medical students and I out of the room. The couple needed privacy and we could no longer be there. In a kind sort of way she said that our sitting around chatting about this would not be good for others who might hear so she asked us to just go home.
I did. A dark pall hung over me for weeks. Looking back, it was really a lot longer. I was responded to a child birth two weeks later. It was the most stressful callout when it should have been a happy and exciting one. Nothing went wrong but I hated the entire time.
Ironically it was Jim and Jenny who helped me crawl out of my bleak abyss. They sent a letter that told me, in amongst their grief, they were worried about how I was. I had left them with positive memories they could hold on to from the day. They had seen how I had really shared their pain, and wanted me to know they would fight their way back. They wanted me to be well and, unbelievably, were filled with remorse that their grief had been forced upon me. They wished that they could have shown me great things to allow me to do even greater ambulance things for others.
I was only a mere observer, a spectator, little more than a kid yet my hurt felt real enough. It could have swamped me. I was nobody in these people’s lives yet they didn’t forgot about me. Their kind words were healing medicine as these great people showed me what real compassion looked like.
And I met them again ten years later in a script you couldn’t write.
Jeff Kenneally www.prehemt.com
paramedic, prehospital, emergency, ambulance, grief