“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that shall be for all people.” (Luke 2:10)
By Judith Blumhofer, MD
On Sunday morning, Angelito was crawling around the house as I savored a cup of coffee. We were enjoying a relaxed morning – just about the only one where nothing was scheduled, we had nowhere to be, and no one coming over. Such mornings are rare, which makes them all the more precious.
I received a call from the hospital about an imminent birth. A woman was in labor, but the baby was showing signs of distress, so the obstetrical doctors chose to deliver by C-section. It wasn’t an emergency C-section by any means. Rather, as the baby was showing signs of distress so early in labor, it indicated that it was unlikely the baby would tolerate labor as it progressed. Instead of waiting to see if that happened, we went to C-section electively. As I wasn’t on call, I had no one on back-up to watch the baby, so Angelito headed to the hospital with me. It took a bit to set-up for the C-section, during which time Angel spent a joy-filled hour crawling around the hospital.
We were short-staffed as it was a Sunday and this wasn’t a scheduled C-section, but we divvied up tasks among those on hand and had all the necessary jobs covered.
When it was time for the C-section, I put Angelito into his backpack and prepared for the baby. We welcomed a new little girl into the world. She took one inhalation, tensed up all her muscles, and then…nothing. The doctors in the C-section suctioned out her mouth and nostrils and handed her over. As she still didn’t react, I started rubbing her down, providing stimulation in an effort to rile her up enough to start screaming. But she just went downhill – from tense to relaxed to downright floppy, from pink to pale to gray. Angelito watched it all over my shoulder until he decided that he’d had enough of not being the center of attention and let out a wail to let the world know. As we were in the middle of a resuscitation with the baby girl, he got ignored. Poor little guy.
With her not responding to oxygen or us breathing for her, chest compressions were begun. Preparing to intubate, I looked into her mouth and saw nothing beyond pools of saliva. Angelito was in full-out wail on my back now. Remember how we were short-staffed because it was a Sunday? This is when I called out, “Hello? Anybody there?” to the area at large, hoping someone with free hands was around. Either to help with the resuscitation going on with the baby girl or simply to take Angelito for a time. But no one answered.
The nurse assisting me ran to the operating room to ask one of the assistants there to come help with the resuscitation. Angelito stayed on my back, screaming, while I tunnel-visioned in on the baby in front of me. Calling for suction to clear her mouth so I could intubate, I struggled to rid her mouth of enough saliva to give me a clear field of view. I would get out little bits, but more would fall into the back of her mouth, continuing to obstruct my view. Then on the head of the suction, the thickest, largest mucus plug I have ever seen came out. Once removed, the breathing tube went in, and immediately her color began to improve and her heart rate came up.
A few more minutes with unobstructed respirations and her tone improved. By then, an extra pair of hands had shown up and I was able to have those hands take over for a few seconds while I freed Angelito from the backpack and put him back onto the floor to play. As he was sitting there with hiccuping sobs, another body appeared in the doorway and immediately took him for a walk. I went back to working on the baby girl, taking out the breathing tube and transitioning her to less support. She continued to improve and within a few minutes, was vigorously wailing, flailing her arms and legs for all she was worth.
Angelito came back, now asleep in loving arms. I wrapped up the little girl and took her out to meet her family – one beaming dad and some very happy grandparents. Angelito and I went home. He needed a nap, and I needed a shower and some time to regroup after such a harrowing experience. A few more minutes without extra hands to help run the resuscitation and it would have been too late. A few more minutes of not clearing her airway and permanent brain damage or death would have resulted.
Every birth is incredible to partake of. Welcoming new life into the world always leaves me in awe of the wonder it is. But welcoming life into the world after so nearly losing it? It takes on a whole new significance. It turns my heart to praise God for the gift of this life. It turns my heart to praise Him for the gift of eternal life. Abundant life. At this time of year, it turns my mind anew to a stable in Bethlehem, so many years ago, when the greatest gift of all came to earth. It turns my mind to angels unable to be silent. To shepherds, the first to hear the proclamation. To a star that led the wise men to a stable. To Jesus, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.
Handing that newborn to the family for the first time was such a precious moment – to watch the faces light up and the joy expressed as they welcomed this new life for the first time. That joy is just a shadow of this joy at Christmas. Just a shadow of the joy of Christ.
Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her King; Let every heart prepare Him room.
Dr. Blumhofer is a MedSend pediatrician serving in Honduras.