The nurse grabs me: “You have to check my patient now! She is screaming and bearing down.”
Without letting go of my hand, she leads me into the labor room. I don’t even consider saying no, I know not to question this nurse. She has been a labor and delivery nurse nearly as long as I have been alive; she knows much more than I about everything.
The room is dark, but within seconds the nurse flicks a switch. I have to blink a few times to see in the now blazing light. Sure enough, the patient is screaming, her husband, wide-eyed, is trying to calm her. The nurse hands me a glove to examine the patient. As I do the exam, I look at the nurse and mouth “complete.” But in my head, it is more like “OH MY GOD! She is complete!” Calmly, the nurse tells the patient, “You are completely dilated. We need to move you to a delivery room now. “
I run out to get help. I am a first-year resident, I need help. This baby is premature, this is not a first-year resident delivery. It’s 3 a.m., so my senior resident is sleeping. She gave me strict instructions to only wake her “if you really need help.”
Emphasis on the really. In other words, “You better not call me because you are being wimpy.”
Is this one of those times? How am I supposed to know, I’ve only been a resident for six months! I page her. No answer. My only other option is to call the attending in-house who is also sleeping. I’m so nervous, I enter in the wrong number. I try again.
By this time, the nurse and an anesthesia resident are passing by me as they push the patient back to the delivery area. I need to go back with them. I can’t wait any longer for someone to answer. I tell the ward clerk to send the resident or attending to the delivery area when they call back. She looks at me, “I know how to find them, don’t you worry.” I run to catch up with the others.
In the delivery room, we help the patient move to a delivery bed. While the nurse calls neonatology, I set up the delivery table and put on a gown and gloves. Neonatology prefers we deliver premature babies in these rooms where they have more space and equipment to work on the baby. The anesthesia resident calls his attending just in case we need him. Once I’m dressed, I look around the room. It’s just me. No senior resident, no attending. In my head, I’m screaming “how could they leave me alone like this? I can’t do this!”
I look over at the nurse. She is calm as can be. She smiles at me and says “You got this.”
“What! She is crazy! I got nothing!” My head is reeling. But she keeps calmly looking at me. Her serenity is putting me in a trance. And then slowly, she tilts her head toward the patient. In that instant, I feel my heart rate slow down, my head clear. I find the confidence I never knew I had, the confidence the nurse knew I had all along. I turn to the patient, and in a strong, steady voice say, “You can start pushing now.”
The patient needs no guidance. Her primal instinct kicks in and within two pushes, her baby comes flying out of her. If the baby wasn’t tethered by the umbilical cord, I think it would have flown across the room. I catch the baby like a slippery football, almost fumbling its small body, but quickly hold it close to me. At that moment, my senior resident and attending come running in, late for the party. The nurse, upon seeing them, loudly says, “You did so great Dr. Eisenberg!” My big grin was hidden by my mask.
As a resident, I learned quickly that labor and delivery is run by the nurses. Not only do they know what is going on, they know how to get things done. Every year they have to deal with a new set of residents, some respectful of these seasoned people, some more full of ego until they are put in their place.
Now, 28 years later, I still vividly remember those good ol’ days at Sinai Hospital. Residency was a grueling time, and that hospital became my second home, my second family. The nurses brought me into their fold and helped me become the doctor I am today. At times they bolstered my confidence, other times, they knew what I needed before I did, and sometimes, they just stood by my side when they knew I shouldn’t be alone. I still keep in touch with many of these great nurses today, and we joke about how they knew me when I was a “baby.” No words can convey the gratitude for all they have done for me and countless other doctors.
Andrea Eisenberg is a obstetrician-gynecologist who blogs at Secret Life of an OB/GYN.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com