Ancient Medicine

Heather Laakso
McMaster University
Class of 2015

The obstetrician has both her hands inside the uterus and she struggles, for a moment, to reposition the baby. Blood and amniotic fluid rush out onto the table. I am the first assist in this C-section, a coveted position indeed for a second year clerk. I press down on the mother’s abdomen as the obstetrician pulls the baby out.

“Bring the baby over,” the nurse instructs me. I gently place my hands under the baby’s rump and head, and cradle his body against my chest. He feels limp and listless, his little body offering no resistance to my hold. He flops down as I gently place him in the baby station.

I turn back to the surgery, but my mind stays with the infant I have just held in my hands. He has been silent a long time now. Is that normal? The mother wonders the same. “Is he okay? What’s going on?” she cries out frantically from behind the screen. The anaesthetist is quickly at her side. “They are just trying to help baby breathe a little more easily,” he says calmly.

I can hear, but cannot see the bustle behind me. “Lisa,” I hear the voice of the doctor looking after the baby, “I think I’m going to need some help over here.” My god, his voice is as calm as I have ever heard it. I look up at the obstetrician. She pauses only slightly. “Okay,” she says, voice as steady as that of her colleague. “This is a code pink.”

I have never before been present when a code is called. I am aware of voices gathering behind me, and I hear the OR door open and close several times. Focus now, focus. I force the room to get smaller. My world contracts, and there are now only three people here who matter to me: myself, the obstetrician, and the OR nurse. I hold the surgical thread tightly with as much attention and care as if it was all that was holding this little world together.

Or at least, I try to. My head suddenly feels a little light, a little fuzzy. A momentary panic rushes through my body. Oh no, you don’t! I know that there is no one else in the room ready to step in and take my place. I squeeze my legs together desperately to facilitate venous return to my right ventricle.

I manage to drown out the voices and commotion behind me, but there is one voice that I cannot so easily ignore. “What’s happening? I can’t see him. Is he okay?” Mom’s voice drifts up loudly to my right, terrified and choked with emotion. We are the only two in the room who cannot physically see what is happening.

“They just want to get him a little pinker,” says the anesthetist. His voice is relaxed and soothing. “Okay, they’re just giving him some air now. Oh, he’s looking better already.”

I glance over briefly. The anaesthetist's hand is on mom’s forehead, and he brings his face over hers so she can see him easily. Mom is still agitated, but her voice has lost its sharp pitch of terror. He talks on and on to her, voice steady and comforting, never once stumbling or at a loss for words. And we, both of us, hang on to his words as if they were precious pieces of floating debris in a roaring sea.

My head feels steadier now, and my thoughts return to the surgery. I am only vaguely aware of baby being escorted out of the OR. Uterus is stitched and replaced. I finish the job with a neat track of staples across Mom’s abdomen. Meanwhile, the gentle and steady voice of the anaesthetist accompanies us.

I check on baby to see for myself that he is doing well before I leave the hospital and tramp to my car in the still, dark hours before dawn. There are many things with which to be impressed in the OR that night. The skill of the obstetrician and surgical team; the knowledge and experience of the doctors and nurses involved with the code; the machines, the pharmacology, and all the “miracles” of modern medicine that quite possibly saved a life or two that might easily have been lost in another time or place.

And then there is the voice of the anesthetist. The ability to support and comfort, to provide strength and hope – why, that is ancient medicine. No, that is medicine itself.

When Mom was wheeled out of the OR and into the recovery room, the anaesthetist was still by her side.

 

This is fiction.

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