Sunday, November 30, 2008

Code Indigo


The season's first snow is falling. It's raw and grey outside the hospital. Inside, Ella Fitzgerald croons a languid "White Christmas" from the internet radio station. We're wrapping up at the O.R. desk after an uneventful morning case.

"Attention all personnel. Attention all personnel. Code Indigo, third floor. Code Indigo, third floor."

I look at the nurses. "Indigo? Which one's that one again?"

Every hospital has coded security alerts for unusual events - emergency room on diversion, airway crisis or cardiac arrest, infant abduction, bomb threat, unruly patient or family member, etc. I don't recall having heard a Code Indigo* recently.

"Missing patient," says one of the nurses.

"Probably just went out for a smoke," says another.

I go to do post-op rounds. The all-clear sounds overhead for the Code Indigo. But when I get to the post-partum ward, a nurse there tells me as I leaf through a patient's chart, "Don't bother. You won't find that patient."

"Breast-feeding class?"

"No. Just gone. That was the Code Indigo."

"Oh! I thought I heard an all-clear a while back."

"Yeah, because the patient's definitively gone. Baby's still here, though. Wanna see?"

She lifts a swaddled bundle of warm, sleepy perfection out of a bassinette. The baby starts drinking formula from a small bottle the nurse is holding.

I start to think of another baby, a patient I had had to discharge to a foster parent during my internship. The baby had been hospitalized with bilateral spiral femur fractures. Yet every time I approached his crib to examine him, his face would light up with a bright smile that held nothing but joy. After I turned him over to foster care, I went into the call room, called my husband, and sobbed on the phone to him, utterly disconsolate.

My mind starts churning around my current situation, trying to figure out if there's some way we could take care of this baby ourselves. But of course we're not at all prepared for a decision like that right now; all I can do is call the social worker and make sure she's on top of what needs to be done to get this child into a suitable pre-adoptive home. It seems like such a small, ineffective measure to take.

The snow has turned into something a little wetter and clumpier. It's dark by midafternoon on days like this. I've turned on a mix of Christmas music - a little Nutcracker, some Kathleen Battle, a little Boston Pops and Leroy Anderson. I go back up to the nursery to hold the baby. The nurses welcome the break.

"Here, Dr. T - have a seat right here."

The baby sleeps in my arms. His cheeks bulge out like rosy little fruits. He is totally at peace. He has no idea that either nobody loves him at all, or someone loves him so much that she felt she had to set him free. He is blissfully unaware that he is alone in the world. Abandoned.

"At least she didn't try to flush him down the toilet, like the kid we got last week."

Thank heaven for small blessings.

Advent starts today: the liturgical prelude to the Christmas season, and the new beginning of the liturgical year. There's something in the baby's given name that conjures up images of light. Light, on this grey, darkening day.

"The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light." I wish, I wish, I wish.

I start humming the baby a lullaby. My favorite song of the season, half ancient chant, half carol for a newborn.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel
and ransom captive Israel
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice -
Emmanuel shall come to thee,
O Israel.

I hope this baby gets his Christmas wish, the wish all babies are born with: a wish for love, for a life that matters, and for a world of hope to be cradled in.


*(Not the actual alert used.)
Cross-posted at Mothers in Medicine.

11 comments:

alanaransley said...

That post really touched me. I would have had a hard time not taking him home! I am so tender-hearted, as it sounds like you are. I want to be a labor and delivery nurse, and don't know how I would deal with that kind of situation. I hope that baby finds a loving home very quickly!

T. said...

I do too! Thank you for stopping by.

Jo said...

What a difficult situation - I feel so sorry for both the baby and his mother (whatever she has gone through to make her able to abandon her baby like that). Hugs to you all.

Anonymous said...

To see a world in a grain of sand, And a heaven in a wild flower, Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, And eternity in an hour.

A robin redbreast in a cage Puts all heaven in a rage.

A dove-house fill'd with doves and pigeons Shudders hell thro' all its regions. A dog starv'd at his master's gate Predicts the ruin of the state.

A horse misused upon the road Calls to heaven for human blood. Each outcry of the hunted hare A fibre from the brain does tear.

A skylark wounded in the wing, A cherubim does cease to sing. The game-cock clipt and arm'd for fight Does the rising sun affright.

Every wolf's and lion's howl Raises from hell a human soul.

The wild deer, wand'ring here and there, Keeps the human soul from care. The lamb misus'd breeds public strife, And yet forgives the butcher's knife.

The bat that flits at close of eve Has left the brain that won't believe. The owl that calls upon the night Speaks the unbeliever's fright.

He who shall hurt the little wren Shall never be belov'd by men. He who the ox to wrath has mov'd Shall never be by woman lov'd.

The wanton boy that kills the fly Shall feel the spider's enmity. He who torments the chafer's sprite Weaves a bower in endless night.

The caterpillar on the leaf Repeats to thee thy mother's grief. Kill not the moth nor butterfly, For the last judgement draweth nigh.

He who shall train the horse to war Shall never pass the polar bar. The beggar's dog and widow's cat, Feed them and thou wilt grow fat.

The gnat that sings his summer's song Poison gets from slander's tongue. The poison of the snake and newt Is the sweat of envy's foot.

The poison of the honey bee Is the artist's jealousy.

The prince's robes and beggar's rags Are toadstools on the miser's bags. A truth that's told with bad intent Beats all the lies you can invent.

It is right it should be so; Man was made for joy and woe; And when this we rightly know, Thro' the world we safely go.

Joy and woe are woven fine, A clothing for the soul divine. Under every grief and pine Runs a joy with silken twine.

The babe is more than swaddling bands; Every farmer understands. Every tear from every eye Becomes a babe in eternity;

This is caught by females bright, And return'd to its own delight. The bleat, the bark, bellow, and roar, Are waves that beat on heaven's shore.

The babe that weeps the rod beneath Writes revenge in realms of death. The beggar's rags, fluttering in air, Does to rags the heavens tear.

The soldier, arm'd with sword and gun, Palsied strikes the summer's sun. The poor man's farthing is worth more Than all the gold on Afric's shore.

One mite wrung from the lab'rer's hands Shall buy and sell the miser's lands; Or, if protected from on high, Does that whole nation sell and buy.

He who mocks the infant's faith Shall be mock'd in age and death. He who shall teach the child to doubt The rotting grave shall ne'er get out.

He who respects the infant's faith Triumphs over hell and death. The child's toys and the old man's reasons Are the fruits of the two seasons.

The questioner, who sits so sly, Shall never know how to reply. He who replies to words of doubt Doth put the light of knowledge out.

The strongest poison ever known Came from Caesar's laurel crown. Nought can deform the human race Like to the armour's iron brace.

When gold and gems adorn the plow, To peaceful arts shall envy bow. A riddle, or the cricket's cry, Is to doubt a fit reply.

The emmet's inch and eagle's mile Make lame philosophy to smile. He who doubts from what he sees Will ne'er believe, do what you please.

If the sun and moon should doubt, They'd immediately go out. To be in a passion you good may do, But no good if a passion is in you.

The whore and gambler, by the state Licensed, build that nation's fate. The harlot's cry from street to street Shall weave old England's winding-sheet.

The winner's shout, the loser's curse, Dance before dead England's hearse.

Every night and every morn Some to misery are born, Every morn and every night Some are born to sweet delight.

Some are born to sweet delight, Some are born to endless night.

We are led to believe a lie When we see not thro' the eye, Which was born in a night to perish in a night, When the soul slept in beams of light.

God appears, and God is light, To those poor souls who dwell in night; But does a human form display To those who dwell in realms of day.

William Blake
"Auguries of Innocence"

Toni Brayer MD said...

Thanks for a touching and amazing post.

katy (aka funny girl) said...

Tears, T, tears.

Only you (or I) would sit down and sing a lullaby to a sweet baby and not worry what anyone else thinks.

Putting people to sleep and waking them up can be learned...this tenderness cannot. THIS is what makes you a great physician.

T said...

Jo - thank you. We felt a mix of sadness, anger, frustration, and hope over this.

Anonymous - I LOVE William Blake. Thank you for juxtaposing "Auguries" with this little post. Blake had a mystical understanding of our interconnectedness that's easy to forget as we rush about doing our various duties; poets and thinkers like him can remind us of truths wider and greater and deeper than we often acknowledge.

Toni - thank you for pausing to read this.

Katy - you give too much credit! What mom wouldn't melt over this? But thank you for your faith, in every sense of the word. It makes me strive to be better as a mom and as a doc.

chez bez said...

Thank you for sharing such a touching story.

dethmama said...

Thank you for this... so touching and beautifully written.

paranan said...

What a beautiful post. And GOD BLESS that Mother - and I capitalize the word Mother. Think of the pressures of carrying an unwanted baby for nine months in order to save him. May both have a blessed life.
Merry Christmas to them and to you.

Barbara K. said...

How tenderly you tell this hard story. Thank you