Awhile ago someone commented to me that the first breath, the first cry a baby makes is kind of a miracle moment, a crossing over of nothing into life. At the time I didn’t pay much attention, it seemed a moot point anyway, or maybe I’m just spiritually bankrupt but a couple of nights ago gave me pause.
Part of my job as a junior doctor is ward call. After the 9-5 job (or in my case, the 0730-5 job) is done, you pick up a pager, go and eat some dinner in the tearoom, and start your second shift, which involves nothing of cleaning your house (oh how I wish it did) a la FF, but instead involves covering all the wards, keeping the patients safe and doing any jobs that need doing like writing up medications, putting in cannulas, writing up fluids, putting in more cannulas, and putting out various other fires. Also part of this job, as this hospital has a maternity ward, is assisting the obstetrician in the operating theatre, usually for emergency caesareans.
The other night we had quite a few of these, and honestly I do grumble about it because it pulls me off the wards and all the jobs build up and by the time you get back you’ve got half an hour to clear the whole hospital of jobs so that the person coming onto nightshift doesn’t start with a backlog. It’s just good manners – but I digress.
It struck me as soon as the head appeared through the opening we’d made in the uterus, this lifeless thing, this little thing that slowly scrunched up it’s face and like magic let out a howl. There is this moment of nothing, and then, something. This first breath that transforms a floppy, purple thing, into a pink-and-white little individual. There’s something in that I think, whether you’re religious, spiritual, or not.
It’s easy too to forget in medicine about these little things that make us so distinguishably human. You get so caught up in those jobs, those endless cannulas, endless requests to review people for headaches, tummy pain, more headaches, sore this and that, that it’s easy to miss those tiny little moments that make what we do so very special. Something from nothing. And the joy that spreads through the theatre when baby is shown to happy, exhausted Mum, the collective cheer that goes up from obstetrician to scrub nurse to intern to scout nurse through to the anaesthetists.
This job can be pretty dehumanising and it seems sometimes that the flow of patients and their needs are relentless when there’s only one of you and so very many sick people – but it’s these moments that give me pause and help me remember what it’s all for. It’s for a good first breath and a good last breath and a healthy everything-in-between.