She wasn’t even old enough to vote, but she had determination beyond her years. Her pregnant belly tightened with a wave of contractions below her. She grit her teeth and her fingernails dug white into her thighs. Her head fell back on the pillow, hair stuck to her forehead. Beads of sweat slid down her face as her neck lifted to look at me and as she asked, “Are you ready? I’m going to do this. I’m going to push this baby out of me. Here we go.”
She was unmedicated, bent over the bed and screaming as her twins descended in her belly. She had delivered her last baby in the hallway after warning the staff, “this baby is coming out, you need to get me to a hospital bed right now”. So this time, when she looked me in the eyes and said, “they’re coming”, I rushed to the head resident and pulled her into the room. She had barely reached between her legs when her eyes widened and she yelled, “let’s move, let’s MOVE!” I learned that because the second twin was breeched, the delivery needed to happen in an operating room just in case complications arose that required intubation or surgical delivery. We ran beside her bed down the hall, the head resident yelling at anesthesia: “unmedicated, twin A crowning, twin B is breeched”. We had barely transferred her onto the tiny operating room table when she grabbed my hands and let out a deafening, guttural cry. Her nails dug in and pierced my skin in searing pain as the chief resident delivered the first twin. His cries filled the room and I yelled out to find her husband, to get him scrubs and get him to the OR, but she was already screaming again. I could hear her agony. And in a moment I will never forget, right in the middle of delivering her second breeched twin -without a single drop of anesthesia numbing her pain- she suddenly stopped, looking at me with worry on her face as her grip loosened, asking me, “Are you okay? Am I hurting you?”
It took them exactly 90 seconds from the sight of blood running down her leg to bursting into through the operating room doors, blue gowns flailing, an emergency “splash prep” of iodine thrown on her belly before he sliced her open. I now understood why they called him ‘Edward Scissorhands’. Even with this incredible speed, as I peeked through my tiny window over the scrub sink, I saw everything slow as the blue, limp baby emerged from the drapes. In a bloody transfer, the baby was handed through the window to the throng of medical staff awaiting in the NICU. My stomach knotted, tears blurring my vision. A nurse rushed out of the OR, headed to the baby’s resuscitation, and in a split-second decision – I followed right behind her. I watched from a corner, partially hidden by a privacy curtain, trying to make myself as small as possible. The chest compressions continued. I didn’t know a baby could look as blue as the gloves they wore. I didn’t know they made intubation tubes that small. I didn’t know they could thread catheters through the umbilical cord like that. A NICU nurse standing on the side grabbed me and we went to find the father. His nerves were painted all over his face, his hands were wringing faster and faster as she slowly updated him on the events that were happening down the hall. He cried when she told him his wife was okay. He cried harder when she told him his baby wasn’t. We both followed the nurse as she slid back through the crowd surrounding the resuscitation, still in progress. It had been over ten minutes now. He wobbled unsteadily, frantically scanning the faces around him. I grabbed him a stool, placed my hand on his shoulder. I tried casually wiping away the tears that were streaming down my cheeks. They tried for what felt like forever. Reluctantly, they stepped back. Quietly turned off the machines. They let him hold her. I couldn’t stay any longer. I slipped into the locker room and cried behind the shower curtain. Later, as I was walking down the hall to the next patient’s room, the next scheduled birthday, I saw him again. His eyes were red and swollen, his presence completely deflated. We both locked eyes. Our tears greeted each other- watering the unbearably painful moment that had locked us unwillingly together.
His hair had grayed and the bags under his eyes had deepened. But his compassion was exactly as I remembered it. He leaned over the patient, spoke softly to her. Squeezed her hand. Knew her name without having to check the chart. He asked the resident to explain her movements, instead of sharply correcting her mistakes. Is that incision far enough? What do you think about the spacing of your suture here? What instrument would you like next? “Watch her very carefully, Hailey. You will do everything she does on the other side.” I cut fascia for the first time. Cauterized bleeding vessels. Grabbed an unborn baby’s limbs. As the procedure neared it’s end, he dismissed the resident and walked to the other side of the operating table. We stood in silence until I realized he was waiting for me to ask for my instruments. For the next ten minutes, time stood still. It forgot about us in OR B. My needle trembled, but his hands followed my suture anyway. Slowly. Patiently. His voice spoke just loud enough so that only I could hear. We entered that sacred, tiny bubble that forms only over the blue drapes of an operating table. Hailey speak up when you ask for something. Build confidence in your voice. Don’t lose your humility. When I finished, I straightened to admire my work. They ripped the blue tissue paper from around her belly, and time kicked back on. I watched life around me resume, bustling and shuffling filled the room, but I couldn’t move. I stood paralyzed as a knot rose in my throat. I wanted to hold onto it, cherish it just a few more seconds. I needed this. Another small sip. Hydration for the next undesignated stretch of time.