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Perle Feldman drops the baby

I have previously written about how I slid across the floor and caught a baby just in time. 

Now I have a confession to make: I once dropped a baby.

This was the second month of my rotating internship and I was so excited to be doing my obstetrics rotation at St. Mary’s Hospital in Montreal. I was eager, scared and green as grass.

On my first day I was introduced to the team. Bruce, the senior resident and Leo, the junior, showed us around and explained the procedures and responsibilities. The nurses greeted me with the cold-eyed scrutiny that veteran case room nurses reserved for the never-ending parade of learners that plagued their lives. The attending obstetrician, Dr. P., was a short, hyperactive man who strongly resembled a yappy Chihuahua.

I was led into a delivery room by Leo where there was a patient who, in the fashion of the day, was bound hand and foot to an operating style table. Her feet were high in the air in stirrups, her bum was hanging over the end of the table, and her perineum was making circles in the air as she pushed uncontrollably while screaming at the top of her lungs in a language that I did not understand. 

Completing this scenario was a nurse, Mrs. K., whose goggle-eyed bovine expression was only accentuated by the persistent movement of her jaws as she chewed gum. I remember her standing next to the table and not speaking to the patient as I sat on the stool and tried to follow Leo’s instructions. 

I tried speaking to the patient, but she did not appear to hear or understand me. I was terrified. Not long into this tense situation, Dr. P. burst into the room. “Leo” he said, “come with me.” 

The resident rose and left the room, leaving me alone with the screaming patient and the silent nurse who was absorbed in writing notes in the chart. I sat there hoping someone would come in soon to tell me what to do, hold my hand, and help this poor woman.

I asked the nurse “What should I do now?” as the patient continued to push and scream and scream and push. Chewing her gum, Mrs. K. shrugged her shoulders and wrote another note in her chart. For a moment I thought she was recording just how useless and incompetent I was. 

Suddenly, the patient gave a mighty heave and the head began to crown. I looked in panic at the black circle which appeared between the patient’s legs as her screams rose even higher. I looked up at the nurse and I whispered urgently, “Please get Dr. P.!” Why I was whispering, I don’t know, since neither of them appeared to hear me. 

Two pushes later the head was truly crowning. “Get Dr. P.!” This time I yelled. Mrs. K. looked up from her chart and looked at the baby’s head that I was attempting to restrain with my gloved hands. She then slowly got up from the stool and ambled out of the room. Now I was alone with the screaming patient. I was trying to keep hold of the crowning head as her bum was moving back and forth and up and down.  “Don’t push! Pousse-pas! Nicht shtupsen!” I was almost crying now. “Dr. P!” I screamed, as with a mighty push, the head popped out. 

The baby then seemed to recoil back on the perineum and the face started turning blue. Remembering my clerkship and the reading I had done, I slipped a hand into the vagina, as the patient stopped screaming for just a minute. There I encountered three tightly coiled loops. The patient started pushing again. “Stop, stop, stop!” I said, to no avail. Panicking, I screamed again, “Help!” Looking at the poor little blue face, I grabbed two clamps, managed to slip them under the tightening cord, clamp, clamp, cut. 

“No! No!” I cried as the patient screamed and pushed again. A clamp flew, flipping around three times. The baby flew out of the vagina, bounced off my chest, and rolled off my lap, into the bucket, where it fell into a nest of paper, blue pads and bodily fluids. 

As I grabbed the baby out of the bucket, the door opened, and Dr. P., Leo and several nurses walked in. I was ready to die. Peds was called, the baby was, thankfully, unharmed. One of the nurses who came in spoke to the patient in whatever language it was that she understood and she calmed down as the baby was cleaned and wrapped and placed in her arms. “Why didn’t you call me?” Dr. P. admonished me.

So, I became the intern who’d dropped the baby. How I recovered from this, I don’t know. Somehow by the end of the rotation I had earned the trust of those veteran case room nurses, and had the courage to go on to do obstetrics in my practice.

See Perle telling the story