“Scissors,” he commands, but I’m already holding them out. He snips through the abdominal muscles, then opens the tough peritoneum with his hands and the shiny pink womb lays exposed like a giant egg.
“Scalpel.” Delicately, he makes a hole in the uterus. More blood clots and fluid spurt out, spilling over the sheet and onto the floor. Blum enlarges the hole, then dips his right hand deep into the Patience’s body, feeling for the fetal head. He grapples this way and that, like a man digging for gold, but then changes course.
Daniel just stands there, but I’m already holding out a warmed baby blanket, waiting for an infant that I’m sure will be floppy, but pray will still be alive. Finally, Isaac gets ahold of the feet, delivers the infant as a breech, and plops the limp, bloody baby into my hands. It’s over in only four minutes.
It’s funny how fast you can move if you have to. I hold the tiny infant against my chest and run for the parlor, where before we started the surgery I had built up the fire in the heater stove and laid a blanket and some supplies on the sofa. “Breathe, baby. Breathe.” I talk to the tiny girl as I scoot across the slippery kitchen floor. Not only is she depressed from the anesthetic, but also weak and pale from blood loss, like a balloon that’s lost air.
The first thing I do is place her on the flannel blanket, then I go to work. In the other room, I can hear Blum saying something to Daniel as he delivers the placenta and begins to quickly suture the uterus back together again.
I dry the infant and rub it all over. There’s a pulse, but no reaction to stimulation, no startle, no cry. She just lays there, floppy as a Raggedy Ann doll. “Come on, baby. You are not going to die. I’ve had enough death for one week!” I try Patience’s trick, the Breath of Life, and blow on the infant’s umbilicus. Still nothing!
Finally, I take the Asepto, suction her airway, and place my mouth over hers. Three quick, light puffs as Patience once showed me. Not too hard—you can damage the delicate lungs. Three puffs and then wait five seconds and then try again. Finally, the baby lets out a cry. I am so grateful I cry with her.
“Okay, little one! Okay, baby. Keep breathing.” I rub her thin skin all over with a dry towel as she turns from blue to pink, but her troubles aren’t over. When I stop stimulating her, she stops breathing.
Now I know what we have to do. Keep touching her. Keep talking to her. I don’t care how long it takes. I’ll sit up all night if I have to.
“Becky? The baby?” That’s Daniel calling from the kitchen, and I step back through the door.
“A little girl.” I move closer to watch the end of the surgery. “She had trouble getting started and looks about three pounds, but has good muscle tone, good reflexes, and good color. Now we just have to keep her warm and keep stimulating her so she won’t forget to breathe. How’s Patience?” As I talk I keep patting the bottom of the little bundle in my arms.
“Weak, but she’ll make it. Infection is what we’ll have to worry about.” The two doctors close Patience’s skin, their four hands working together like dancers who’ve danced this dance before, the curved needles swooping back and forth across the midwife’s alabaster body.
Dr. Hester clips the suture and holds the skin closed, Blum does the stitching, as slick and competent as I remember. Finally, they’re done. They cleanse the skin one more time, then lay on two layers of cotton wool.
“Here, Daniel. Why don’t you sit down by the stove and hold your baby? The anesthesia will be wearing off soon and we’ll have to control Patience’s pain with laudanum. Dr. Blum and I can finish the dressing.”
I look at Patience so still and white, but I’m already thinking about her recovery. We must get fluids into her as soon as possible and then good food, chicken broth, and liver. What she needs is blood, but blood transfusions are still experimental, and even if they were available there’s no hospital nearby that could give them.
Patience moans and flips her head back and forth. She twists her mouth around like she tastes something bad, but these are all good signs that she’s coming around.
“Patience, it’s Becky.” I place my hands on each side of her face. “You’re okay. You’re okay, my friend. You’re okay and so is the baby.”
Daniel comes over with the newborn in his arms and pushes a wooden chair in close so he can sit down. There are tears streaming down his face and I’ll admit, my face is wet too. He holds the baby a little higher, as the mother’s eyes flutter open. “Look, my love. We did it. It’s a miracle. She lives. Thank god! She lives.”
Circle of Prayer
The crisis is over, but now the hard work begins. The first night, the three of us, Daniel, Blum, and I, sit up together as if prayer could keep the baby and mother alive. First, we transfer Patience to the sofa while she’s still under the influence of the opium, and then we take turns rubbing cooking oil on the infant’s skin and keeping her warm. If ever she turns blue or stops breathing we double our efforts. Only once do I have to breathe for her as I did right after her birth.
As we hold our vigil, I watch Dr. Blum, still shocked at how he returned to himself when we needed him. He doesn’t say anything, just sits there, silent as usual, but he’s present, and when I hand him the baby so that I can catch a few winks he takes her gently and begins the massage.
A quarter of the midwife’s life fluid is on the bed upstairs and another quarter on the kitchen floor, so I’m determined not to let Patience lose any more and now I can be liberal with Mrs. Potts’s hemorrhage tincture. I thought maybe Dr. Blum would ask me what’s in it, but once the emergency was over he went back to his old silent self.
The main thing with Patience is to keep the uterus firm and to hydrate her. We start with the herbal mixture, blended with honey and warm water. Water. Water. Water. Tea and water. By morning she’s still weak but alive and we begin with warm milk. Daniel goes out in the hall and telephones the Reverend in Hazel Patch.
Right after breakfast, the troops arrive, first Preacher Miller, quiet and serious, and his wife, Mildred, a bundle of energy. She throws off her long coat and rolls up the sleeves of her white blouse. She’s even brought her own flowered apron.
“Oh, my. Oh, my,” Mrs. Miller sighs. “You should have called us last night. We would have circled you with love the minute we heard. And Dr. Blum did the surgery? That’s what you said? Praise Jesus, our prayers are working. You know we hold him in the light every Sunday. Just think, not even a year ago he was like a child.” She’s all smiles and gives the doctor a hug. He smiles too, but just barely and doesn’t hug back.
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