I cradled my son’s miniature body in my hands. Only moments old, he looked up with large glassy eyes. He was so alert, so perfect. I carried him over to the bedside. The obstetrician worked on the afterbirth as my wife waited patiently to hold her child.
At the time, it hadn’t sunken in yet how much our solitary lives were changing. The nurses swept the baby away for routine testing and measuring. I settled into the chair and reclined for a few minutes before the the first signs of morning.
I didn’t wake up for hours. Overwhelmed and exhausted, my body stumbled into deep sleep. My dreams were vivid and startling. And they brought back memories locked away and guarded with a key.
Any student rotating through the obstetrics department can tell you the stories. Every academic center has them. At my hospital, it was the cardiothoracic surgeon whose wife was delivering her third child and had an amniotic embolism. My attending shook as he told me how he heard the screams for help coming from the delivery room.
When you hear a guy like that, an experienced surgeon who has seen just about everything, yell with panic in his voice …
The attending stopped and looked up as if trying to question the Divine himself. After a long pause, he turned his attention back to me and changed the subject. I later found out that the poor woman was rushed to the operating room and her chest was cracked. It was futile.
I couldn’t shake the image of an unfazable surgeon walking into his home alone with a new baby to face his other two children.
During my pediatrics rotation, as a student, I held a little girl in my arms in much the same way as I would eventually hold my own child. She was a few months old when her father brought her into the pediatrics clinic. He stared at the ground lifelessly as I examined his daughter. Occasionally he would grunt in response to my questions.
The first thing I noticed was that unlike most of the Hispanic baby girls brought into the clinic, her ears were unpierced. I unsuccessfully tried to question, but my pigeon Spanish failed me. I wondered why her father came to the clinic alone.
As I flipped through the chart the answers became clear.
The mother died during childbirth.
Last week, my wife was out of town and left me alone with the children. Every morning, I would wake up early before the kids started to stir in their beds.
Later, I sat with my four year old daughter and stared blankly at a closet full of clothes. We both looked at each other and started to giggle. I agonized over finding a suitable outfit. When we were done, I stood in front of the mirror with her small brush and hair clips.
After multiple failed attempts, I reached into the drawer and pulled out a head band. My daughter guided my hands as we affixed it properly. She looked appraisingly at my reflection in the mirror and spoke softly.
A good thing we have mommy!
If only she knew how simple hair and clothes are compared to everything else.
Yes. Good thing we have mommy.
Jordan Grumet is an internal medicine physician who blogs at In My Humble Opinion.
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