Small Great Things(5)

Written By: Jodi Picoult



A recovery is still a lot of work—a one-to-one nurse-patient relationship. True, the labor’s finished, but there is still tidying up to be done, a physical assessment of the newborn, and a stack of paperwork. “Got it,” I say, and I push away from the table to go find Lucille, the night nurse, who was with Brittany during the delivery.

She finds me first, in the staff restroom, washing my hands. “Tag, you’re it,” she says, handing me Brittany Bauer’s file. “Twenty-six-year-old G one, now P one, delivered vaginally this morning at five-thirty over an intact perineum. She’s O positive, rubella immune, Hep B and HIV negative, GBS negative. Gestational diabetic, diet controlled, otherwise uncomplicated. She still has an IV in her left forearm. I DC’d the epidural, but she hasn’t been out of bed yet, so ask her if she has to get up and pee. Her bleeding’s been good, her fundus is firm at U.”

I open the file and scan the notes, committing the details to memory. “Davis,” I read. “That’s the baby?”

“Yeah. His vital signs have been normal, but his one-hour blood sugar was forty, so we’ve got him trying to nurse. He’s done a little bit on each side, but he’s kind of spitty and sleepy and he hasn’t done a whole lot of eating.”

“Did he get his eyes and thighs?”

“Yeah, and he’s peed, but hasn’t pooped. I haven’t done the bath or the newborn assessment yet.”

“No problem,” I say. “Is that it?”

“The dad’s name is Turk,” Lucille replies, hesitating. “There’s something just a little…off about him.”

“Like Creeper Dad?” I ask. Last year, we had a father who was flirting with the nursing student in the room during his wife’s delivery. When she wound up having a C-section, instead of standing behind the drape near his wife’s head, he strolled across the OR and said to the nursing student, Is it hot in here, or is it just you?

“Not like that,” Lucille says. “He’s appropriate with the mom. He’s just…sketchy. I can’t put my finger on it.”

I’ve always thought that if I wasn’t an L & D nurse, I’d make a great fake psychic. We are skilled at reading our patients so that we know what they need moments before they realize it. And we are also gifted when it comes to sensing strange vibes. Just last month my radar went off when a mentally challenged patient came in with an older Ukrainian woman who had befriended her at the grocery store where she worked. There was something weird about the dynamic between them, and I followed my hunch and called the police. Turned out the Ukrainian woman had served time in Kentucky for stealing the baby of a woman with Down syndrome.

So as I walk into Brittany Bauer’s room for the first time, I am not worried. I’m thinking: I’ve got this.

I knock softly and push open the door. “I’m Ruth,” I say. “I’m going to be your nurse today.” I walk right up to Brittany, and smile down at the baby cradled in her arms. “Isn’t he a sweetie! What’s his name?” I ask, although I already know. It’s a means to start a conversation, to connect with the patient.

Brittany doesn’t answer. She looks at her husband, a hulking guy who’s sitting on the edge of his chair. He’s got military-short hair and he’s bouncing the heel of one boot like he can’t quite stay still. I get what Lucille saw in him. Turk Bauer makes me think of a power line that’s snapped during a storm, and lies across the road just waiting for something to brush against it so it can shoot sparks.

It doesn’t matter if you’re shy or modest—nobody who’s just had a baby stays quiet for long. They want to share this life-changing moment. They want to relive the labor, the birth, the beauty of their baby. But Brittany, well, it’s almost like she needs his permission to speak. Domestic abuse? I wonder.

“Davis,” she chokes out. “His name is Davis.”

“Well, hello, Davis,” I murmur, moving closer to the bed. “Would you mind if I take a listen to his heart and lungs and check his temperature?”

Her arms clamp tighter on the newborn, pulling him closer.

“I can do it right here,” I say. “You don’t have to let go of him.”

You have to cut a new parent a little bit of slack, especially one who’s already been told her baby’s blood sugar is too low. So I tuck the thermometer under Davis’s armpit, and get a normal reading. I look at the whorls of his hair—a patch of white can signify hearing loss; an alternating hair pattern can flag metabolic issues. I press my stethoscope against the baby’s back, listening to his lungs. I slide my hand between him and his mother, listening to his heart.

Whoosh.

It’s so faint that I think it’s a mistake.

I listen again, trying to make sure it wasn’t a fluke, but that slight whir is there behind the backbeat of the pulse.

Turk stands up so that he is towering over me; he folds his arms.

Nerves look different on fathers. They get combative, sometimes. As if they could bluster away whatever’s wrong.

“I hear a very slight murmur,” I say delicately. “But it could be nothing. This early, there are still parts of the heart that are developing. Even if it is a murmur, it could disappear in a few days. Still, I’ll make a note of it; I’ll have the pediatrician take a listen.” While I’m talking, trying to be as calm as possible, I do another blood sugar. It’s an Accu-Chek, which means we get instant results—and this time, he’s at fifty-two. “Now, this is great news,” I say, trying to give the Bauers something positive to hold on to. “His sugar is much better.” I walk to the sink and run warm water, fill a plastic bowl, and set it on the warmer. “Davis is definitely perking up, and he’ll probably start eating really soon. Why don’t I get him cleaned up, and fire him up a little bit, and we can try nursing again?”

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