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The Race

May 14, 2012

Controlled chaos comes to mind during life and death situations. I have seen many races to save a person’s life. It feels just like when you are watching an action movie and you are biting your nails, sitting on the edge of your seat, and waiting with baited breath to see what happens. As I watch the nurses do everything necessary to save someone’s life, I can’t help wondering why these people don’t receive the least bit of gratitude from pop culture. They are like a NASCAR pit crew with the ability to seamlessly work together to change a tire in under five seconds. The nursing staff does this with patients of all ages and I have had the opportunity to see them in action many times.

It was an ugly, overcast day making the hospital rooms dark and grey. I was now volunteering in the Labor and Delivery floor, the Disneyland of hospital departments since it is the happiest place on earth. I was able to view vaginal births every shift and could partake in the gift of life. More than 4 million babies are born in the United States everyday, California having some of the highest rates of daily births. It was no wonder then, that today several mothers were on the floor, already in labor, anxious to push out that child. I visited one room. The father and mother were quiet focused on the task at hand: delivering their first child. The nurse had supervised the mother pushing and the baby was nearly out. The doctor, otherwise referred to as the “baby-catcher”, was called for the last stretch.

The doctor sat between her legs, the nurse and husband by her sides holding her hand. The mother began pushing during each carefully monitored contraction. The nurse cheered her during each strenuous push, telling her she could do it and that she was almost done. The father was subdued, casually glancing towards his wife’s feet periodically. After one large muscle contraction, the baby’s head was out, but it wasn’t over. The rest of his body came out and the small family took a first look at their child. The father took the scissors to cut the umbilical cord. Even though birth is supposed to be joyous, the air in the room changed upon seeing the baby boy.

The nurse took the child from the father. Several nurses that seemingly appeared out of nowhere huddled around the newborn. The baby had a foreboding tinge of blue. They quickly worked to suction fluid out of his nose and mouth as a timer ticks away. He has now been alive a total of forty-five seconds, but had yet to take his first breath. The mother lies on the bed, legs still in stir-ups not knowing that the son she has just delivered has not breathed yet. She is exhausted the doctor keeps her focused on him in order for her to push out the placenta. The father stands in the corner. His face is full of apprehension. He is unaware of what is causing all this noise and disruption. A red camera is in his hand at the ready to take countless photos of his son.  The timer ticks up this boy’s life to only a minute. A minute without a breath, a minute without oxygen, a minute without life. A nurse calls a Code Blue, the sign that this baby is dying. Although he was born, he has yet to be alive. The head nurse grabs the small facemask and begins tapping away on his chest, hoping to break up the fluid in his minuscule lungs. The crash cart is wheeled into the room in response to the code, just in case they will need to resuscitate him. Luckily, at a minute and thirteen seconds, the boy screams and begins crying, a normally discomforting sound that is glorious in this context. Everyone releases a communal breath, relieved that this child was not a fetal demise. The steady work from the staff saved this boy’s life. This baby was lucky. An estimated 2 million babies dies within twenty-four hours of birth. The nurses continue suctioning and tapping his chest to ensure that his life is permanent for as long as possible.

Once the baby is stable, he is wrapped in a baby blanket and placed on the mother’s chest. She is then told what all the commotion was about. She and the father had no idea, assuming this is what happens for every birth. The nursing staff clearly remained calm, exhibiting behavior that said, “This happens everyday.” It probably is a good thing they were so calm, otherwise I couldn’t imagine how the parents would react. The parents thank the nurses with gracious smiles as they walk out the door. One last nurse remains to pass out the identification bracelets to tie these three people together.

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