“Keep pushing! You can do this!” my exhausted intern proclaims as he encourages a scared soon-to-be mother. Twenty-four-hour call has never been easy, but now it has taken on a new meaning. Things look different on labor and delivery: We speak a little louder these days so that our voices can be heard through two masks. We’re limiting staff in the hospital to protect those who are high risk, which means a heavier workload for those of us healthy enough to work. Due to visitor limitations, our delivery rooms are now full of fear and trepidation instead of excited family and friends. The new parents-to-be are more scared than ever as the joy of a new child is now accompanied by the fear of a global pandemic.
My intern looks to me. Only we can provide each other with a sense of calm. He has a new baby at home. How can he be sure that the two masks he wears to protect his baby and wife will be enough? We glance at each other for fleeting moment as we remember that the task at hand is greater than our own fears.
“She’s almost here! Here she comes!” the delivery nurse proclaims. Suddenly we’re back to the familiar, experiencing the excitement that drove us into this field, sharing this special moment with coworkers and complete strangers. The energy of the new parents is palpable, as social distancing doesn’t exist in a labor and delivery room. The new mother cries with a mix of emotions and exhaustion; the new father approaches the baby warmer to touch his daughter’s chest as it rises and falls; and the new baby, calm and content, is welcomed into a world full of unrest.
“Congratulations. She’s perfect,” we say, as we finish our work and leave the room. Together we remove our PPE in silence. We look at each other again. We’re exhausted, overworked, fearful, and grateful for each other and for the privilege to witness the most special moments in our patients’ lives. We separate because there’s work waiting for us: he veers off towards triage, where he’ll mask his own anxiety to check in anxiously awaiting patients.
After our shift we walk out of the hospital doors together. I want to hug him to express how proud I am of the hard work he has done and to make him feel appreciated, but I know what that hug could cost us both. So instead we’ll go our separate ways and decompress with the knowledge that we’ll be back inside these walls before we’re ready to be. We’ll be back to do what we love, and we’ll wear our PPE with a sense of pride. We’ll “keep pushing” just like we coach our patients to do.
Dr. Colleen Murphy is an obstetrics and gynecology resident at Yale New Haven Health in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
Disclaimer: The thoughts and opinions in the Frontline Voices initiative reflect experiences of individual ACOG members and do not represent official organizational opinions of ACOG.