Sunday, December 25, 2011

From Birth To Death

As luck would have it, she happened to die while I was in the room. I sat with her family as the last breath precariously left her lips. We waited for the next as if it was a forgone conclusion. It never came.

Walking toward the nursing station, my mind wandered back to medical school.


I tentatively followed behind the resident as we entered the birthing room. The patient writhed in bed and opened her mouth, but nothing came out. Her face tensed and then relaxed. The contraction had passed.

We stood quietly for a moment, and then the resident cleared her throat.

This is Doctor Grumet, he will be delivering your baby.

My back muscles tensed and I gritted my teeth. My mind bobbed back and forth between embarrassment at being referred to as a physician, and fear of performing the delivery myself. I looked over at my patient. After months of going to the residents free clinic, she learned to accept what she was being told without questioning.

Although she refused the epidural from the beginning, her sighs of pain made me wonder if she regretted it. The nurse and resident stood by her side bracing her legs. As she started to push, I looked down in anticipation.

A tuft of hair bounced in an out of the birth canal with every contraction. After a few minutes, the head broke free and I tentatively pushed down and delivered the anterior shoulder. I slipped my hand over the baby's neck hoping to gain traction as the posterior shoulder broke free. I caught the body clumsily with my other hand, and held the baby up for the mother to see.

After forceps were applied, the umbilical cord was cut. Minutes later I delivered the afterbirth and sutured a small lacertaion.

I left the room, and sat at a desk with the chart in front of me. I paused and looked down at my hands. Only moments before they had taken part in the ritualistic dance of childbirth.

It was a familiar dance.

One that had been performed over and over again since the beginning of time.


I often marvel at how similar birth and death feel. The ephemeral movements of the soul are difficult to diagram, but it is impossible to escape the feeling that as the last grain of sand slips free, the hour glass is just waiting to be flipped back over.

And we struggle to control that which occurs between bookends. Doctors and patients fight to write more pages to prolong introduction and ending. Yet sometimes I wonder If we miss the point.

I haven't delivered any babies since medical school, but I see my share of deaths. And each time, I can't help but hear the same words echo in my head.

This is how it's always been. This is how it always shall be.

There is nothing to fear

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