“A man without ethics is a wild beast loosed upon this world.” ~ Albert Camus.
This week I saw a headline that said that New York women were going to have to give birth alone. It was not as stark as it sounded. It wasn’t that the poor women were going to have to squat in a corner and deliver their own babies (do they even have sterile scissors, I was wondering). What they meant was that baby Daddy, Doula, significant other, Lamaze partner or any other such companion would not be allowed to be with her. So far as I could tell, she would still have the care of the necessary healthcare workers.
Which sent me down memory lane. I was alone for half of my deliveries. For the first one, after I had been checked in and examined and it was determined that yes, I was in labor this time, my husband had to leave to go give his boss the keys to the gas station (he usually opened). He didn’t make it back until the baby was safely here. It was some time later that he confessed that it was not essential for him to leave at that time, but he was scared. That ticked me off. I didn’t have a choice, no matter how scared I was. It was only recently that I reflected on the reason for his fear. When he was seven, his mother had died in childbirth. No wonder he had to get away (of course, he never said as much).
For my third child, I had one of those know-it-all nurses who thought I had shown up too early in the labor process. She had wanted me to go home and come back later. I kept telling her I was having the baby that night. Her response was along the lines of ‘suit yourself’. So when things started happening as I told her they would, she had waited too long to call my physician. As she’s getting ready to wheel me into the delivery room (yes, back then you labored in one room and delivered in another) I’m saying ‘my husband can come, right?’ She responded ‘Did you take Lamaze classes?’ ‘Well no, this being my third baby’ – ‘Then he can wait in the waiting room.’
I don’t remember much about the actual birth, I just remember feeling abandoned and scared, surrounded by the nurse with the attitude, a strange doctor who didn’t even know my name, and the nurses of the oncoming shift. I had done the unforgiveable, timed my delivery for the infamous ‘change of shift’ a time when nurses are supposed to be getting report, not putting on gloves. The whole experience was so overwhelming that I started crying hysterically as soon as the baby came out. It was hearing a nurse say ‘let me get some Valium’ that brought me sharply back in control. I did not need medications, I needed empathy and compassion. I needed someone in the room that cared about me. I was alone.
This (ironically named) year of the Nurse, this year of new realities has brought the every-day world of healthcare in full relief, in full living color to our TV screens. The yellow gowns, the green or blue or white masks (should it be surgical? Must it be an N-95?), the gloves (apparently blue ones are all the rage now) are on full display in every live news report. Even the man on the street knows what PPE is. And hand hygiene is trending! These are days when Infectious Control nurses are both smiling and crying, finally they get some respect but who on earth thinks it is acceptable to reuse PPE? We are seeing the violation of every Infection Control practice (break the chain!). My heart breaks for every front-line worker.
But strange times bring about strange solutions. Another interesting plan underway is to cross train surgical residents to work as ICU nurses. Hmmmm. I am pretty sure they can manage the drips and the machines and the technology. But do they know they have to spend twelve hours with the patient? Will they also document? Do they know they can talk to the patient even if they are comatose? I would love to interview them on the other side of this war. So how did it feel to nurse a patient? To try to comfort when you have no scalpel to remove an offending tumor? To try to reassure family members (remotely in this case). To not get a break because there is no relief?
It is a great thing, being forced to look at your world from a different perspective. I still reflect back on the gift of my childhood, where I was transported from the UK, a little white girl, into the heart of Jamaica. Growing up seeing a completely different world, and coming of age in the time of Black Power, provided me with a world view that has stayed with me to this day. Empathy means seeing things from another person’s point of view. We are all being force-fed lessons in empathy right now.
They say that to properly manage this pandemic, it is not that you must look at every person around you as if they have the dreaded virus, it is that you must act as if you have it. That way, instead of expecting others to stay away from you, you keep to yourself. You clean up after yourself. You think of others before you do anything, go anywhere. Mother Nature has finally found a way to teach us to be members of a world-wide community. She is saying what she has said all along: You are members of one human race, one family. What you do affects everyone around you, and the ripple effects travel the globe.
In this moment where we pause and take stock of what is important in our life, I hope you have enough. Enough patience, resilience, courage and humor to make it through. I hope that those who succumb (inside joke for my Jamaican friends) will be able to feel the love of their family and friends, even as they are kept distanced, blocked by (hopefully adequate) layers of Personal Protective Equipment. And may we all come through this with new skills, new strengths, and lessons that last us a lifetime.
Have a wonderful weekend of more social distancing, Family!