Passage

A husband and wife were about to bring their baby into the world. She lay across the surgery table. He sat with scrubs, cap and mask, anxiously waiting by her side. She grinned, even as her eyes glistened with tears. He spoke reassuringly as he squeezed her arm.

They had imagined this day over and over. Within minutes, with this birth, their lives would change forever.

A curtain of sterile draping fell between her head and abdomen, separating the excited parents from the hectic operation about to take place on the other side.

It was my first day in the OR since Anatomy dissections. She looked strikingly like a cadaver, except that she actually bled—multiple suction tubes flooded with blood. The OB with a flock of residents were frantically cutting, digging, and cauterizing.

“This is the uterus,” they held up something huge and nodded at me. When they pierced it, amniotic fluid gushed out as if a hose had exploded.

From the chaos they pulled out a small bundle. The nurses rushed to it with a bulb syringe and sucked the fluid from its mouth. Then it began to cry.

The dad stood up when he heard the sound. First his head emerged above the curtain, and then a video camera pointed in our direction.

I gasped. Everyone froze. Without missing a beat, the doctor held up the baby, smiling at the camera. Nurses quickly wiped off the blood. Then they swept the baby off to a table along the side of the room, and the video camera followed.

Work on the mother resumed. Placenta out, uterus closed, skin stapled.

The whole thing only took about 20 minutes. Nothing went wrong. It was a great case for a first-time medical student. And I found it to be horrific.

Only a thin veil separated the family’s experience from ours. For them, a beautiful beginning of a new life together. For us, cutting and sewing and blood and guts. I almost felt it was out of place to say congratulations.

This is how I was born into the world of Medicine. I was thrown in headfirst, unprepared and alone. I would learn, over the years, that some of life’s most precious experiences—birth, healing, death—are gruesome. I would witness many more than my share of such moments, again and again, as part of the routine of my career. I would struggle to find the beauty in the madness of this reality. Yet I would find it.