• Gila Zarbiv

Death in a Time of Corona

Updated: Aug 17, 2020

The phone rings. It is a friend currently isolated at home. “My sister is in the hospital with a fever and suspected Corona. Her baby has no heartbeat. I know your working tonight. Will you deliver her?”

I run out the door.

When I get to the hospital it dawns on me. How does one deliver a still birth in the days of Corona? How do I organize the bureaucracy? What is the status of the dead baby? Infected? How do I give this patient all of me while being covered from head to toe? How can I support her when I cannot hug her? Hold her? Be there with her with all my being? Phone call after phone call, discussion after discussion, nothing is clear, there are no clear protocols.

Everything is new. We in the medical field are used to working with clear concise guidelines and protocol. We are not accustomed to working under circumstances where every decision is new, changing, evolving, and unfolding in real time. At the epicenter of this decision is a woman, her anxious husband, and their dead baby.

Delivering a dead fetus is challenging in the best of times. Conquering this mountain in the days of Corona is a hypersensitive event that requires a dance of sensitivity, care, quiet, and thought that is breathtaking.

I gear up and run. I’m already late. I was supposed to be there at 23:00 and its already 23:18 after all the phone calls. My face shield is already fogged up and my mask is cutting into my face. I enter the room. The afternoon shift midwife fills me in on the status and care the patient has received until now. She wishes us all luck and leaves the room. It is just me the patient, and her husband. I begin by asking her where she is from, what she and her husband do for a living, and what family she has at home. Ice broken. Now to the task at hand. I ask her and her husband about her wishes for the birth, the body, burial, genetic and pathological testing, and the part of saying goodbye to her baby girl. We cry together yet apart.

I turn off the lights and let her and her husband rest. They are emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausted.

At midnight I check her. She is fully dilated. I rupture her water and she pushes for 18 minutes. Her silent, still, perfect baby girl is born. The noise that a couple makes when holding their dead child is scarred into my soul. It is always the same sound. The same cry. The depths of pain and suffering. I hold her through the mask, the shield, and the gown. We sob together, shaking, crying, and wailing.

She and her husband hold, hug, and kiss their tiny perfect baby girl taking all the time they need, say a prayer and a goodbye, and hand her to me.

I clean her, wrap her, talk to her, tell her she is loved and safe, and organize the wishes of the parents. The baby’s status is still unclear. Birth and death in a time of Corona.

Bouncing back and forth another midwife and I support the mourning couple and determine the protocol for the baby.

The mother is still sick with a fever and a racing pulse with an undetermined source. She begins to feel faint. Her blood pressure drops and she begins to bleed. I sound the alarm and tell the midwife outside to call for help. She is given fluids, medications, and slowly stabilizes. Finally, she is well enough to go upstairs. We hug and hold each other. She is transferred to the ward. I turn to her dead baby daughter and begin the task of preparing her for the morgue.

The time is 2 am. My shift is just beginning.

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