The Road through Residency:

Cursed Enlightenment

The scrubs I’m wearing are hanging damp and heavy. My limp hand is starting to go numb from the squeeze my wife is placing upon it.

The obstetrician, her forehead drenched in sweat, yells for more light and to for my wife to push harder. The monitor starts to show the baby’s heart rate falling more frequently into gullies and canyons, dropping off.

My wife’s blood pressure suddenly surges, her eyes roll back into her head, and she starts seizing. My mind races with the possibilities.

“Oh God,” I think, “it’s eclampsia.”

Her neck stiffens, and I fear aneurysmal rupture. The obstetrician calls for the nurses to start rolling her into the operating room. As we move down the hall, my hand is now squeezing hers, which hangs limp, lifeless.

Tears stream down my face, and a nurse stops me as they take my wife into the OR.

“We’ll do everything we can,” she said. “Please stay here.”

My mind reels. My hopes surge for the best outcome, but the physician in my mind whispers to me, “They’re gone.”

I sit up, and my head falls into my hands as I reorient after the nightmare. My eyes move to the baby monitor on the bedside table. The red lights jump with each of my son’s cries. He’s been teething for three days now, each ivory challenge presenting itself at night. At least, that’s what I hope it is, and not something sinister.

My wife moans, “Can you get him tonight?”

I get up from the bed, my back aching. “This is what happens when you turn 30,” I mutter.

I climb toward the nursery. Standing there in the crib, my son has tears streaming down his face. He sees me towering over him and outstretches his arms. I pick him up, and he buries his face into my neck, breathes deep and stops crying. I rub his back gently as we rock.

Earlier, my wife had asked me about giving him some ibuprofen. I refused, fearful of an allergic reaction, something I have had the unpleasant experience of seeing firsthand. Now, sitting there with him at 3 a.m., I think I might have been too hasty.

Over a year ago, I remember a visit to the obstetrician at 30-something weeks. I sat there while he asked my wife all the regular questions about swelling, nausea and weight gain. Afterward, he turned to me and spoke the only four words he said to me that day: “Don’t treat your wife.”

I appreciated his advice but never thought much of it.

Our pregnancy and delivery went as smoothly as any other. When we got home from the hospital, however, the worry began and never left. Every cough or sneeze became a rare, incurable condition in my mind.

At six months, my son developed mucus and blood in the stool. I feared the worst. After a visit to the pediatrician, we cut out dairy from his and (much to her chagrin) my wife’s diet, and his symptoms resolved. Just a milk allergy. Since starting a family, I have seen how this knowledge of all that can go wrong, all the terrifying diagnoses sneak into your mind with each symptom. These “zebras” are driven into our minds to make us into vigilant diagnosticians, but this enlightenment becomes a curse. The fear of horrible diseases befalling those you love is always in the back of your mind.

My son is sleeping now. I stand, move quietly to his crib, and lay him down amongst the soft liner with images of farm animals. The sound of rain outside lulls him asleep. I rub his back for a few moments and realize how vulnerable life can be. Then I tiptoe down the stairs and crawl into bed.

But my ears stay turned towards the monitor with the perpetual vigilance of a parent, made worse by the knowledge of a physician.