22 weeks

*Viewer discretion is advised*

Talking about him seemed too cruel, much less putting up a picture of him. But today was the first time I saw a little one die before my very own eyes – without any attempts to resuscitate him.

His 21 year old mother came into the delivery suite with abdominal pain… but she was only pregnant for 22 weeks…her first child. There was no time for dexamethasone to mature his lungs, she was already bleeding. The nurses laid her on a bed in the high dependency unit and conducted her delivery. She pushed in great pain because none of her organs were ready for the premature labour. She successfully delivered a 22 week old baby boy. He was floppy and wasn’t moving. There were no cries…nothing. There were some mild signs of gasping for air and he had a heartbeat. He moved his arms twice. That’s it. Everybody knew he was not going to survive. According to hospital’s protocol, only babies above the gestational age of 26 weeks were given a chance at resuscitation, because the hospital simply did not have the expertise and facilities to keep a baby that premature alive.

And so there he was, left on the bed with the warmer, to slowly breathe his last breath and beat his last heartbeat. Had he been born in America, he MIGHT just be given a chance at survival, after all he was heavier than Amillia – he weighed 390grams. But because he was born in the wrong place at the wrong time, a human being’s life was let go…just like that. It was heartbreaking to see such a tiny person, with no congenital abnormalities, with a well formed head, body, fingers and toes, left to die. Boy, oh boy, was he a fighter! He tried to stay alive as long as he could, in fact his heart was still beating close to two hours later. His lungs expanded in and out for some time, then it gave way and his heart beat gradually slowed down and became more faint. The bruises and haemorrhage became more visible through his translucent skin into his brain, then his limbs and then lastly the blood vessels in his torso became more striking. Even if the hospital managed to resuscitate him, he won’t be able to survive long and even if he survived, his prognosis was grave.

It was difficult to know what to pray for at that time, as the bunch of us doctors, nurses, medical students and student nurses, surrounded him and admired his determination to remain alive. We took turns listening to his faint heartbeat, so we can record the exact time of death, or expiry (the term used by the staff there). I could never ever imagine what his mother would feel when she sees her little baby. They could only bring him to her once he has ‘expired’.. and he was fighting against expiry like a true warrior. He was hardly alone today during his last moments. Somebody was bound to be by his side to watch him.

DSC001881What could I pray for? "Lord, heal him? Help him survive?" I couldn’t.

All I could say was "Lord, minimize his agony and pain. Please bring this little soul into Your glory." 

Today’s experience impacted me quite a bit. I still see images of him.
Goodbye, little one. You’ve already left an imprint in my heart in the short time you were alive. 


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