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As the patient’s husband opened the door, I was vomiting into the snow. Although only a six-mile taxi ride, I have never travelled well. ‘Born dead it was,’ said the man, who had waited for me to stand up.
I was a medical student, and for obstetrics we had to carry out 12 hospital-based deliveries and 12 domiciliaries. I still needed to carry out five domiciliary deliveries, but for this one I was too late in every sense.
When I entered the tiny bedroom, Mrs McGrath was lying in bed, as white as the paper I write on. She emitted almost animal-like sobs.
‘He’s over there, doctor. It’s no use.’
There he was, encased in newspaper. A perfectly formed boy with umbilical cord and placenta attached. But he was blue, and not the waxy white I expected. I had to try, at least.
Milking the blood from the cord, I began to blow into the tiny mouth. The parents looked on almost in revulsion, feeling that my efforts were not only a waste of time but were cruel in that they pretended to create hope where they felt there was none.
I prayed a silent, almost feverishly threatening prayer. My thoughts being loosely translated suggested that if God really did exist, this was the time for him to get off his throne, or wherever he resided, and come and help me. I continued blowing into the tiny mouth.
Fortunately, I had only partially learnt the technique, for I forgot to take my mouth away when inhaling. Suddenly and quite accidentally, I dislodged a large plug of mucus. In an instant, that which seconds before had been an inert purple brick-sized bundle of flesh and bone, began wriggling and gurgling in my hands. Chameleon-like, the sombre colour was replaced by a vibrant pink.
No words of mine can convey the ecstasy; the elation and the sheer unbridled pleasure that that movement and that sound gave me, feelings shared by the two amazed parents.
The ambulance took mother and baby to Dublin and Mr McGrath embraced me. The top of my head was well below the level of his chin, and I felt his tears run down my forehead and cheeks, where they mixed with my own.
November 27, 1959. I took a last lingering look around the tiny bedroom, my gaze fixed on the torn crumpled newspaper that a short time earlier was about to be the paper shroud of a man who hopefully somewhere today is just a few months short of his fifty-fifth birthday.
My first resuscitation, my only resuscitation, and the greatest event of my life.
Peter Docherty is a semi-retired consultant ophthalmologist from Derby
Lovely story, thanks
The technique of mouth to mouth resuscitation should be taught to all parents, as you don't need 5 years of medical training to be allowed to attempt it
I heard of a family who had had one cot death, were given an apnoea alarm for their second baby but no instruction on what to do if it went off. It did alarm when the babe stopped breathing at c the age of 6 weeks, and the parents spent the next 10minutes phoning 999 while the babe died
Very true what Nigel says. Parents should be taught the basic resuscitation. All parents should do first aid training for that matter.
I had a dramatic save of mother and baby with cardio -respiratory arrest in labour after epidural top up, successful team work, perimortem caesarean section by me, both alive and well.Couple had another baby few years ago.
Kind of similar experience.
I was waiting in the labour suite for a lady to make up her mind regarding epidural. It was a peaceful night.
The emergency alarm goes off - a mid wife walks out with a blue and limp baby who had been born 2 hrs back.
Do i treat him as new born or neonate??? any way - started resus and the little fella improved.
The poor parents were in state of shock, all I could think of is to thank the lady who was caught in two minds about the epidural.
similar situation, new inexperienced SHO in small midwifery unit and no senior cover within 20miles 30+ years ago (Ah the good old days!). Flat blue baby delivered and put on resus trolley. started intubating and sucked out a large plug of mucus from the larynx with immediate effect of restoring life
That is a wonderful story, Peter, and beautifully written as always.
We met once when BMA News took us both out for lunch at Tate Modern, I was runner up in a writing competition and you were the winner. I always enjoy reading your articles, and am full of admiration for your writing.
" All parents should do first aid training for that matter." Ideally it should start long before that. Children should be given basic first aid training at school, and as they progress though school training should become more advanced. It would be a far more useful life skill than a GCSE in hospitality.
That is a wonderful life changing event to read. I am certain that the parents and the'young' chap never forgot that remarkable moment. Beautiful.
Thanks for helping me to see things in a diferefnt light.