May/June, 1998 Volume XII Number 12
A matter of choice
by Bob Edwards
A friend told me her story and it went like this:
It was a relatively calm day in my hospital"s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. I and two other nurses were trying to have a conversation amid the customary sounds of ventilators and heart monitors. I was in mid-sentence when the shrill ring of the red emergency phone halted everything. "Come fast" the voice said urgently. "We need a neonatal nurse here STAT!" (that"s immediately).
A few years later, the same Sharon Dunsmore became nursing manager of a psychiatric unit. One day, Kathy, a young, severely depressed woman, came to see Sharon following an unsuccessful suicide attempt. As Sharon interviewed her and heard her story, she told of an abortion she had received three years before and was having recurring nightmares over. A baby was crying for help and kept calling her name. In her dreams, Kathy kept searching for the baby, but could never find him or her. She did not even know the sex of her baby.
Fear gripped my heart as I ran into the delivery room, but instantly I knew the situation was critical, and I was not prepared for what I was about to experience. "What"s happened here," I asked.
"It"s an oops abortion", and now it"s your problem", responded one of the nurses.
For us, an "oops abortion" meant that the fetus had survived the abortion procedure.
A pediatrician had also been called to the scene. He ran by me with the fetus, (now called a baby), in his hand and yelled in my direction. I followed him into the resuscitation room adjoining the delivery room.
I looked into the bed of the warmer as I grabbed equipment. There lay a baby boy . . . a very, very tiny baby boy. The doctor and I immediately made an attempt at intubation, that is, inserting a tube down the windpipe from the mouth or nose of the infant to the tip of the lungs to try to ventilate, expand and get oxygen into them. The doctor"s efforts at intubation failed. All it did was further traumatize the baby.
I glanced at the doctor and hesitantly asked, "Will you attempt intubation again?"
"It would be inhumane to attempt to intubate this poor little thing again. This infant will never survive," he growled back.
"Well," I said, "it is my job to ask."
The doctor softened. "I"m sorry, Sharon, I'm just angry. The mother doesn't want the inconvenience of a baby, so she comes to the hospital so she can pay somebody to get rid of it, all neat and tidy. Then the whole thing gets messed up when the little one has the audacity to survive. And then everybody takes it seriously, and they call the pediatrician, and I'm supposed to fix it, or get rid of it."
With anger in his voice, he went on, "Some lawyers will fight for the right for the mother to do whatever she wants to with her body, but watch out for what they do when abortions aren't so neat and tidy! A failed homicide, oops! Then all of a sudden everybody cares, and it's turned from a 'right' into a 'liability' that someone is blamed for!"
We looked at our pathetic little patient. He was lying in the fetal position in the wrong environment, trying to get air into underdeveloped lungs that could not do the job. In a calmed voice, the doctor said, "Okay, Nurse, I"m going back to my office. Keep him comfortable and let me know when it"s over. I'm sorry about this. Call me if you need me. I know this is a hard one. If it helps, please know it is tough for me too."
I watched the doctor retreat and then glanced back at the infant before me. He was gasping for air. "Lord, help!" I prayed. Almost instinctively, I measured the baby's vital signs. His temperature was dangerously low. I pushed the warmer settings as high as they would go. His heart rate was about 180 to 200 beats per minute. I could count the beats by watching his little chest pulsate. I settled down a bit and began to focus on this tiny little person. He had no name, so I gave him one. Suddenly, I found myself speaking to the baby.
"Tiny Tim, who are you? I'm sorry you weren't wanted. It's not your fault."
I placed my little finger in his hand, and he grasped it. As I watched him closely, I marveled that all the minute parts of a beautiful baby were present and functioning in spite of this onslaught. I touched his toes and discovered that this premature baby was ticklish! He had a long torso and long legs, and I wondered if he would have become a basketball player. Perhaps he would have been a teacher or maybe a doctor.
Emotions swept over me as I thought of my friends who had been waiting and praying for years for a baby to adopt. I spoke aloud again to this miniature baby. "They would have given you a loving and happy home. Why would people destroy you before ever considering adoption? Ignorance isn't bliss, is it, Tiny Tim?"
Then little Tim put his thumb into his mouth and sucked. I hoped that gave him comfort. I said, "I'm sorry, Tim. There are people who would risk their lives for a whale or an owl, but they wouldn't even blink an eye about what is happening to you."
Tiny Tim gasped, and his little chest heaved as if a truck were sitting on it. With my stethoscope, I listened to his tiny, pounding heart. It seemed easier to focus on his physiology rather than on this tiny baby's humanity.
And then he wet...and my mind took off again. Here was Tiny Tim with a whole set of kidneys, a bladder and connecting tubes that functioned with a very complex system of chemistry. His plumbing was all working! I turned the overhead light up and little Tim turned away from it. In spite of eyelids that were still fused together, he wanted to protect his precious little eyes. I thought about them. They would never see a sunset, a mother's smile or the wagging tail of a dog.
I took his temperature again. It was dropping. He was gasping for air and continued to fight for life. I stroked him gently and began to sing to him.
Another nurse walked in. "How"s the mother," I asked.
"Oh, she"s fine. She"s back in her room resting. The family said they don"t want to see or hear about anything. They said, 'Just take care of it.'" The nurse retreated with one last glance at the tiny patient. "For such a little person, he sure is putting up a big fight," she said.
I looked at Tiny Tim and wondered if he knew that what he was fighting so hard for was life, and I knew he was losing his fight. He was dying . . . and his family was not even interested. Their words tormented me. "Just take care of it!" No muss, no fuss.
Then Tiny Tim moved and caught hold of my little finger. I let him hang on. I did not want him to die without being touched and cared for. As I saw him struggle to breathe, I said, "It"s okay, Tim. You can let go . . . . . .You can go back to God." His gasping started to slow down, but he still clung to my finger. I stroked him ever so slowly and watched him take his last breath.
"Goodbye," I whispered, "You did matter to someone."
As Kathy gave the name of the hospital and the names of the doctors, a disturbing realization dawned on Sharon, Kathy was Tiny Tim"s mother. But because of hospital regulations Sharon could not tell Kathy what she knew.
But time passed. Sharon was no longer a nurse or a therapist. Kathy was no longer a psychiatric patient. They ran into each other at a restaurant, where Sharon gently unfolded the story that had been hidden for so long. Tears flowed as she gave Kathy the gift of answers. Her baby had been touched and loved by a mother. He had been given a name. He didn't die alone. He was sent back to a loving God.
They held each other and wept. Sharon looked into Kathy's eyes and saw new strength and calm. There were scars, but she was beginning to heal. The nightmares were being put to rest.
Sharon still lives with the haunting impact of this experience. A "choice" that was intended to be "no big deal," turned out to be a very big deal for everyone.
I was brought to tears by this story. In all my travels and experience in the Army, I have never witnessed anything like what Sharon Dunsmore did. I have seen people killed, I have seen the effects of war, and I have helped kill other human beings. It amazes me what human beings will do to each other. Still, in everything I have seen, I wonder how people can call "Tiny Tim" just a piece of tissue, just a choice. We as a nation will answer for the infanticide that we practice. We as Christians will answer for what we have or have not done to stop this holocaust.
In Nazi Germany in the 1930"s and 1940"s the Christian Churches were well aware of what the Nazi"s were doing to the Jews and others they called "undesirables." In most cases the Church chose to do nothing, reasoning, that they should let the state take care of earthly matters, while the Church worried
about saving the soul. The price for inaction was the destruction of Germany. Do not sit idly by while this country mortgages her soul through infanticide.
"Just take care of it." How convenient to rationalize life by calling the baby "it." One who chooses abortion, chooses stories like this! Unfortunately, we pay for our choices in life. Kathy paid a terrible price, as did Tiny Tim. But so also did Sharon, the doctors, nurses and family involved. However, it is more than that, this nation is paying a price for treating our most helpless citizens as tissue. God says He knew us before we were born. He also says a man and a nation will reap what it sows.
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A matter of choice