I will never forget the patient or the day it happened. Assigned to my residency team, we had watched her vigilantly because she was 39 years old and pregnant with her first baby. Although she spoke no English the love that she had for the miracle growing inside of her could be understood in any language.
She had begun to have premature contractions at 33 weeks and we were trying to prolong her pregnancy for just a little bit longer to allow the lungs to develop. For approximately one week, we monitored her blood, her temperature and fetal movement. One of her tests ultimately indicated that she was developing an infection so we decided to induce her. We would then transfer the baby to the special care nursery where, under the watchful eyes of the neonatologists, he would continue to grow. My team was not on call that night although, in retrospect, I wished the heck that we were. We signed out the patient to the on-call team before we left. We gave them explicit instructions on how often to monitor the patient and discussed her complicated history. She was having, what we, in obstetrics called, a “precious baby” meaning that an older woman was having her first child. When we went home that evening, the baby was alive. When we returned the next morning, it was dead.
“What happened?” I asked as a volcano of anger started to mount. I received a litany of excuses, none of which made sense. Essentially, they missed an opportunity to intervene at the proper time and perform an emergency cesarean. By the time they got their act together, the baby was dead. There was a heated exchange of words between the male chief resident and myself. Another resident had to jump in between the two of us because at that moment, I was ready to swing.
Later that afternoon, the patient demanded to see her baby. We retrieved his body from the morgue in the basement, dressed him in a beautiful blanket and the social worker attempted to console her in her native language. I knew that I could never bring her baby back alive but from that moment on, I vowed to never allow a tragedy of that magnitude to happen again.