When this time of year rolls around, I think of the premature baby I delivered. I was barely out of nursing school, and it was around Thanksgiving. I was working nights at a teeny-tiny hospital in a rural area. There were only 27 beds in the whole hospital, and that night I think we only had two patients. There was only an elderly nursing aid and I on. I think both the patients were in for “tests”, something that never happens these days, so it was an easy night, until…
About 2AM a man came into the hospital and asked to use the phone to call the doctor. I’m sitting at the desk, listening to a conversation that went something like this:
Doc, my wife’s having stomach pains.
Well, do you think I should bring her in?
Well, all right, I’ll go get her.
About this time it occurs to me to ask the man if his wife is pregnant. Well, yes, she is, but she’s only six or seven months along. Oh, shit.
A while later he shows up again, with his wife and her mother. And it’s obvious her water has broken. I call the doctor back and tell him. He says to put her in the exam room, she doesn’t have insurance, and he doesn’t think he’ll admit her. Like hell he won’t, it’s obvious to me that she is in labor.
Now we have to tell stories on Dr. Bill. The man was a misogynist. And he had done his internship rotation in OB at Cook County Hospital in Chicago, where you apparently raced from delivery to delivery. He hated OB-GYN. Anybody in the county with any brains who was expecting went to the other hospital for their care. But we did have a few deliveries, and working nights, I’d gotten in on most of them. It would serve me well in the next few minutes.
We get her settled in the exam room, and I decide to see if she is dilating. Dilating, hell, she’s crowning 50¢, which is to say I can see a piece of the baby’s scalp as big as a 50¢ piece. Ruh-roh. I go back to call the doctor and tell him she’s crowning. The Virgin Mary, Brigid, and all other protectors of childbirth must have been with me and the mother, because, goddess help me, I left her alone. Dr. Bill, as was his wont, took his frigging time getting to the phone. But he doesn’t believe this newby fresh out of nursing school knows what she is talking about, so says he’ll be in in a bit.
I get back to the exam room, and decide to put some sterile gloves on. I got the package half-opened when the baby shot out at me, and I caught it barehanded. It was a tiny boy. He gives a little cry, and then kind of just looks around. I have tiny hands, and I could hold the baby with one of them. I screamed for the aid, and told her to go get the OB pack. She did, the drapes, not the instruments. Send her back for the instruments. While she’s gone, I decide to cut the cord, reach into my pocket for my scissors, and cut it. And then I notice it’s bleeding with every heartbeat. Whoops, you are supposed to clamp it first. So I hold the baby in one hand and hold the cord closed with the other. And scream for the aide. And tell her to go get me a cord clamp. Instead of just going to supply and getting one, she goes all the way down to OB, gets a sterile one, opens it with her bare hands and puts it on. Great.
The doctor is still not here, so I wrap the baby in a blanket, and take him to the nursery,where I put him in an incubator and turn the oxygen on. And station the aide there to watch him. Meanwhile, Grandma has seen me come out with this baby, and all this blood, and she’s freaking. About that time, the doctor shows up, so we go attend to mom. Then Doc goes in and looks at the baby. Baby is doing fine, amazingly. All we had was one of those ratty nursery scales like you probably had at home, not accurate at all. As close as we could figure, the baby weighed 2 lbs 2 oz.
He stayed in the hospital for a month, until he got to be 4 lbs, and then he went home. We had to tube feed him most of that time, but he was very active for a preemie. We couldn’t just leave the tube in him because he would spit it out, and then pull it out with his hand. I don’t know how he lived, because none of us knew anything about taking care of preemies, including the doctor, but we muddled through. And he grew. Near Christmas, another baby was born in the hospital, this one weighing 13 lbs. I think half the town paraded through the hospital just to look at those two babies side by side.
One of the nursing assistants made little outfits for the babies for Christmas.This is a picture of the baby in his little outfit, at almost a month old. When it got near to his 30th birthday, I wrote to the weekly paper down there, and asked if anyone knew what had become of him. On his 30th birthday, I got a letter from his mother, recalling the birth, and giving me an update. He had a Ph.d, and was teaching at a nearby university. There is no reason he should have lived, given the circumstances of his birth, but the Universe must have had plans for him, because as far as I know, he’s still around.