Sunday, June 10, 2007

What is love?

My internship in Family Medicine consisted of varying rotations in other departments. I witnessed this story during my second month of Obstetrics.

A 34 year old woman was admitted to the Labor and Delivery ward. She had 5 healthy children from her 5 previous pregnancies. She had minimal prenatal care. At 8 1/2 months into her pregnancy, she had an ultrasound. It was abnormal. More specifically, the baby was severely malformed- with brain and heart abnormalities that meant the baby would only be able to breathe for a few hours before dying. And the baby's face was hideously deformed. The mother told her family and elected to have the baby naturally to avoid the risk of a Caesarian section. Then she would get her tubes tied because she didn't want to risk having another genetically defective baby.

So this lady with the hideously deformed baby with no real life expectancy showed up with 15-20 family members. Sisters, parents, cousins, and a friend accompanied the woman and her husband. We treated her like any other patient- you still have to prevent infections and care for the mother. She pushed like any other patient. And she delivered a specimen I was not any other patient.

The ultrasound showed that there would be a pear shaped head with protuberant eyes. But it's different when the grainy images are flesh and blood. The top of the head was as wide as my hand down to the cheekbones. The eyes were too big for the sockets and hung loosely by the visible optic nerve in the back. The eyelids were absent, so these eyes kept staring emptily around the room. The bulbous lower face was twice as wide as the upper face. When you touched the cheeks, the top of the head expanded like a water balloon. This did not look human. I think there were more physical issues, but we wrapped to baby in a blanket to keep the baby warm. I remember the genitalia were not developed enough for us to tell if it was a girl or boy.

The family held this blob of temporary flesh, passing it around and admiring it like the Crown Jewels. They coo'd, kissed the baby, and sang lullabyes. They hugged each other and comforted each other in turn. As the baby was breathing its last breath only 45 minutes after its first, everyone began to silently cry, holding hands and praying for this poor soul. When the baby died, it's maternal grandmother, who had thanked God for her new grandchild, told us why all of these people came to see a deformed baby's birth and death.

"We knew the baby was only going to be with us for a few minutes, and we wanted it to know it was still loved while we had the chance."

And that tragic moment became beauty and love.

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