Sunday, November 30, 2008
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."
"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,
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.