A medical student experience in the newborn nursery

So many times we feel so overwhelmed by the crush of medical school that we forget to share the really amazing moments that come along each day. One of the incredible gifts you get as a medical student is that you get to step inside medicine as a worker and observer. Often, you get overwhelmed with being the “worker” and do not remember to be an “observer” of the human interaction that makes up health care.

The first two months of my 3rd year of medical school I will be working and observing in pediatrics; I’m three weeks into that now. I started out in the newborn nursery, and I suppose that is the right place to start. Mornings consisting of making my notes, moving from room to room; methodically examining each infant in turn, feeling for pulses, testing the motion of joints, listening for murmurs, and watching for reflections in the eyes of my small patients. Work, certainly, but a wonderful privilege, for certain. To be able to, as James Joyce noted in Ulysses: To “look at her as she reclines with the motherlight in her eyes, in the first bloom of new motherhood, breathing a silent prayer of thanks.” To see the new mother and child, and their family and friends work out their first few steps together as a family. To sit down with their medical record and begin to write the first few paragraphs in the book of a person’s life … words that will most likely outlive you by many decades.

In this case, the routine of the nursery is a blessing, carrying you on your appointed rounds, until you find yourself back in the clinic, seeing the same infants a couple of days old, a couple weeks old, a month old, noting when then turn to your voice, how they grasp a toy, feel proud that they lift a head up to look at you. This is the amazing thing about pediatrics for me, that for the most part it is this amazing, ordered progression of normalcy.

Of course, it isn’t always that way. Sometimes tragedy intervenes. But for the most part this is the way it unfolds. Predicable, but terrifying. Then I began to realize as I spied the parents watch me examine their child over and over again, searching my face as I test and observe, that my methodical approach brings comfort to them, a small amount of security in an awful big world for a such a small person. Confirmed as I see the look of relief on their face that says “I’m glad you’re here” when I walk into the room.

Finally the visit is over, the infant is swaddled, and the parent touches your hand and says “Thank You” in a voice so sincere that you think your heart will break and you realize that you truly have given something transcendent; something that all that the knowledge of human embryology, and the biochemical pathways of steroid synthesis cannot give you; the power to be present in the moment for another human being, to have for a brief moment the possibility of connection. To be where healing begins.

Michael Moore is a medical student who blogs at The Lancet Student

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