I have the privilege of working in a place where two people come in as a couple and leave as a family. I get to watch the tiny newborn take her first breath. As she sucks in the unfamiliar oxygen, her purple body slowly fades into a healthy pink. Her eyes open wide, stunned, seeing light for the very first time as she gazes into the beaming but exhausted face of her mom. Her first cry elicits tears of joy from her dad. Labor and Delivery. Most of the time, it’s the happiest hall in the hospital. But sometimes, sometimes it’s not.
That morning in the fall of 2021 I arrived, fully caffeinated, ready for anything. The night nurse gave me my report: 26-year-old Mia*, first baby, 7 lbs, 3 oz., a boy who was delivered last evening, no complications except being Covid positive. Wait. What? Covid positive? My stomach tightened as I thought about my last Covid patient. No, I tell myself. This time will be different. I continued to listen. She said Mia had only a mild case. She had congestion and a loss of taste. I sighed with relief.
First, what might Mia need? I gathered towels, bedding, ice water, and her morning meds. Next, I put on my PPE which included a headcover, shoe covers, gown, N95 mask, and gloves. Lastly, I put on my favorite, ugly, fog-resistant goggles with built-in reading glasses. Thank you, Amazon.
I pushed open the door and then greeted the new parents as I set down the water on the bedside table. “Hi, Mia. Hi Don. I’m Sandy. I’ll be your nurse today. Mia, how are you feeling this morning?”
Mia’s dark disheveled hair crowned her face as she looked up. “Better. I’m not coughing today, but my sinuses are still hurting.” She looked down at her precious baby. He was chewing his fist and kicking his tiny pink feet. “I can’t seem to get Maddox to eat. He chews on his hands, but won’t eat like he’s supposed to.”
I smiled and replied, “Eating is a brand new skill. It may take him a while to get the hang of it. Hold him a bit closer, like this, his belly next to your belly. Now, tickle his little mouth until he opens wide. There he goes. Yes, he’s doing it. Wonderful!”
Her eyes shone with happiness and relief as she watched him figure out this new skill. She gently kissed his little forehead. “I can’t believe how much I love him. He’s so perfect.”
“He’s quite handsome,” I said. “May I get his vital signs? I’ll try not to disturb his eating.”
Mia nodded, so I gently listened to his heart and lungs and took his temperature under his arm. Perfect. I softly ran my hand over his silky hair, feeling the shape of his head. The night shift nurse said it was cone-shaped from his entry into the world. This morning it was nice and round. It always amazed me how fast that happens.
Don asked, “They told us to fill out this birth certificate. Do you have a pen I could use?”
I started to reach into my pocket to get my pen, but my hand hit the gown that protected my scrubs. Oh yes, I was in an isolation room. It would take several minutes to leave the room, take off all my PPE, wash, go get a pen, put all the PPE back on and come back in.
I sighed and reached for the hospital phone on the bedside table. “I’ll call someone to bring one in. Do you two need anything else?” Mia wanted some orange juice. Don wanted a toothbrush. We don’t want our dads in isolation to come and go, so we take care of all of their needs too, whether it be food, towels, or hygiene items.
After making the call, I charted on the computer slowly. I was in no hurry to leave the room until Maddox was done eating just in case Mia needed more help. I couldn’t pop in and check on her like I could with other patients.
When I was done charting, I cleaned the room. The tight N95 mask caused me to breathe harder, and I felt short of breath. Briefly, I remembered the other mom, one month ago in this very room. My heart pounded and my shoulders tensed up. I shook my head and forced the unwanted thoughts to go.
Maddox was healthy and strong. Mia was ill but was getting better. I took another deep breath and brought my thoughts back to what I was doing.
“Somebody’s got a dirty diaper,” Mia laughs.
I handed a diaper to Dad. “Do you know how to change it?” I asked.
“Uh, not really,” he replied. He timidly picked up the baby from Mia’s arms and carefully placed him in the crib. I showed him how to hold the baby’s kicking legs. Don’s hands trembled a bit, afraid to hold too tight. I encouraged him, “Yes, you’re doing it just right. The tabs of the diaper go in the back. Then bring it around like this. You got it. Good job.”
Don smiled and caressed his son’s delicate skin. The baby responded by curling his tiny fingers around his dad’s big one as if to assure him of his essential place.
Maddox started chewing on his other hand. “He’s still hungry,” Don said, and he handed the baby to his mom to finish his breakfast. This time, Mia got him to eat without my help. Nice, they were both learning.
For most young, healthy women, Covid ranges from no symptoms to bad flu. Babies rarely get sick. However, it is not kind to pregnant women. The old saying is true, “She’s eating for two.” Also, her heart, lungs, and kidneys all work overtime caring for her precious baby. The uterus expands to the size of a watermelon, putting pressure on all her organs, squeezing her lungs, yet demanding extra oxygen to nurture the beloved new life.
Covid adds a storm into the system. If the mom is not getting enough oxygen, she can’t give it to her baby. If her body is sick, it can’t nurture a new life. The disease can also cause blood clots that injure the mom or plug up the placenta which is what feeds and brings oxygen to the baby. It can cause premature births and stillbirths.
For Mia, Covid was not a bad storm, just a bit of rainfall. She would be more tired than the average mom, but she and Maddox would be just fine.
Briefly, I shut my eyes and was flooded with the memory of a mother for which Covid became a hurricane. One month ago in this very room, an anguished mother held her stillborn baby whose life was cut short because she had the virus. That mother was inches from death herself. We kept the emergency code cart right outside of her room for her whole stay. Luckily, we didn’t have to use it.
In the days that followed, I prayed for those parents that they would find comfort and peace after their tragedy. I even considered finding some other job that didn’t tear my heart apart. Maybe I could work for a dermatologist. Nobody dies from a rash. Or maybe I could leave nursing, become a golf caddy, and stroll in the sunshine every day.
I opened my eyes, took a deep breath, and pushed the past aside to deal with the present. I looked over at little Maddox. He was sweetly sleeping with his head lolled to one side, his arms hanging loosely, and white colostrum covered his lips. Milk drunk. Satisfied and relaxed.
Don leaned over and kissed Mia softly and said, “You’re going to be a wonderful mom.” Tears flooded her eyes.
I lingered and watched the scene before me. Two brand new parents, feeling thrilled, scared, awestruck, and experiencing life and love like they never imagined possible. This makes the job worthwhile. This is why I haven’t quit.
There were times during the pandemic that I was drowning in an ocean of stress and grief, and all I could do was pour out my feelings to God.
I found that sometimes God calms the waves. Other times He teaches us to swim above them.
I’m slowly learning. When I’m grieved by sickness and death, I practice 1 Peter 5:7 “Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.”
Then I intentionally seek out the good parts of life and focus on them. To summarize Paul in Philippians 4:8, whatsoever things are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, with any virtue or praise, think on these things.
When I feel isolated, I reach out and connect with friends and connect with God. When I’m stressed, I pick something off my list of “relaxation ideas.” Yes, I have that list and I know how to use it.
The pandemic has taken some of the fun out of nursing, but I’m still blessed and happy to be doing it.