A still birth had just occurred. The veterans of many births had hurriedly wheeled a gurney into the delivery room, bumping it against the door. The ill-fated contents of the six-months-pregnant uterus spontaneously aborted. The tiny fetus was wrapped in butcher paper and placed in the dirty utility room for pathology to pick up. Meanwhile, inside the cold, white, sterile delivery room, the doctor delivered the placenta under a bit more control than the ‘bumped door’ fetal technique.
Nurse Miller, the gray-haired nursing instructor, motioned for Elaine and her fellow student nurse, Sandy, to follow her into the dirty utility room. “I’m sorry we’re not dealing with a live baby, but this dead infant will be worth studying a bit.” Nurse Miller gestured for the two to hurry as she looked up and down the corridors in a furtive manner. “This fetus is a mere 6 months, no good lung development, no hope for viability but let’s see what we can see.” Nurse Miller had quickly materialized in the corner area where specimen bottles, dirty linens, and old instruments awaited cleaning and reprocessing. On the lower shelf was a tiny brown-paper-wrapped parcel. “I ‘m very cautious about whom I would show this to…, but you both are mature, smart nurses, so let’s take a gander at this little creature’s last remains, shall we?”
Nurse Miller quickly unwrapped the bloody package. Lying in the middle of the plain brown wrapper was a little thing with a face, fingers, toes and a minuscule penis. A tiny chest started to rise and out of the little slit of a mouth, a gurgling sound arose. This little baby hadn’t been suctioned or resuscitated in any way. The extremities were a bad, dusky blue color. Maybe he weighed as much as a bottle of coke. He could fit in the palm of a man’s hand. “It’s alive,” Elaine whispered. Sandy was fumbling for the tabletop to steady herself as she tried to back away. Sandy gurgled, “Oh my God, this is not right!”
“Let me go for help. Stay right here!” Nurse Miller commanded. She picked up the tiny package with the breath battling baby and turned towards the door. Just as she moved, the attending physician, the head of the Obstetrical Department of this urban Catholic hospital, walked through the utility doors looking for a place to discard his gloves. With a friendly nod he glanced at the quivering trio. “A little post mortem inspection, Nurse Miller?” He gazed at them over the tops of his glasses with a sly smile.
“Just in the nick of time, Dr. Anderson, this little guy is breathing and was just wrapped here to die.” The older instructor walked towards him with outstretched arms, the baby lying nude and panting.
“Hold on a minute, put that fetus back where you found it,” he ordered, his smile rapidly disappearing. “That is a non viable little thing. Put it back.”
“Put it back?” Nurse Miller looked confused. Elaine and Sandy huddled in the corner not moving an inch. Unclear where the authority was, in their teacher or this power figure of a medical man.
“That’s barely a six-month gestational fetus. It will not live. The parents are distraught and in pain.” The tall man loomed over Nurse Miller as saliva collected on his lips and his voice boomed, “Telling them they have a child only to incur major, I mean major expenses and have a dead baby within two days, is cruel and unusual punishment for no good reason. Put that poor creature back. Now!” With that he ripped his gloves off and slingshot them into the trash bin, “I'm doing what is best for that fetus and the family.” He abruptly made an about face and stormed out the door, leaving it swinging with a helicopter whirling cadence.
The threesome stood silent and shocked. Nurse Miller responded first and quickly, placing the infant back on the brown stained paper, “He’s right, and he’s wrong. I’m sorry, girls, it’s the real world. He‘s a good man. We caught him unaware, this isn’t his nature.”
It took Elaine a moment to realize Nurse Miller was apologizing for the Doctor, muting his anger and trying to contain the horror for them. The old nursing instructor started cleaning the floor where placental blood had dripped from the umbilical cord when she had spun around in rescue mode just a moment earlier. “It’s not appropriate to look closer at this child, I‘m truly sorry, you saw this.” Her right eye started twitching. Sandy who always had something to say about anything, stood there with every drop of blood drained from her face. Elaine vowed never to work in maternity.
Nurse Miller stopped teaching after that year.
Sandy graduated but never passed her boards and worked in a plastic surgeon’s office as an insurance adjuster minimizing all patient contact, infant or otherwise.
Elaine just collected degrees and taught others to do what she couldn’t.
carolefor The Poplar Grove Muse