April 15, 2009

Night Nurse

2009 1511 page28 cap spend my nights in a large metropolitan inner-city hospital on the east coast of the United States. The majority of the people I see are underprivileged. Some don’t have a home—they live on the street.

Sometimes they come to the hospital because they are hungry and need a shower. Most of them have at least one sexually transmitted disease (STD), and many have several STDs. A large number of them are on drugs. Some are looking for help.
Some are young and only babes themselves. My youngest patient was 11 years of age and having a baby. Others are older and have been at this for some time. Numerous women are there with their first pregnancy, but we also see patients who have had as many as 16 or more pregnancies. Almost all of the young women I see have opted for at least one abortion. Some of them use abortion as their form of birth control and have had many. Several are HIV positive. Sometimes my patients come in with the police on their way to jail, or they come from jail in shackles to deliver their baby. Others are all alone because they have no support system. Life is cold and hard.
“They Only Got One!”
She was in labor, and angry. This was her eighth pregnancy, and she didn’t want another baby. Several months earlier she learned she was pregnant, but she found out too late that she was pregnant with not just one child but two. The amazing thing is that not even the doctor who did her abortion realized she was pregnant with twins. She left the abortion clinic thinking the problem had been solved, only to find that her abdomen kept getting bigger and bigger. Later she learned the truth—she had been pregnant with twins and “they only got one,” she told me while she was in labor.
2009 1511 page28By the time she found out that she was still pregnant, she was too far along to get another abortion. Her only option was to have a baby she had tried to get rid of and didn’t want. That is when I met her. She was in active labor—and so angry. As I asked her the usual questions for admission to the hospital, she was very curt with her answers.
It was late at night and I didn’t have other patients waiting to be seen, so I was able to take some extra time with her. Sitting down, I asked her to tell me more about how she was feeling. Then she told me the story about how she had gone for an abortion and later found out she was still pregnant. They took baby A, but there was baby B that nobody knew about. She didn’t want another baby. She wasn’t married. She had no good support system. She was alone. There was no money. What was she going to do?
After our little chat, she didn’t feel as alone. She told me that no one had ever really cared about her before. That was all she needed—some love, the human touch of someone who cared. God helped me reach out to touch someone, and what a difference it made. The rest of her labor wasn’t easy, but her demeanor was completely different. Whenever I went into her room to check on her or ask her a question, she was kind in her response. She was different because she felt as if somebody in this world cared. She delivered her baby and chose to allow her child to be adopted.
A Shower and a Meal
The smell permeated throughout the whole triage unit. She smelled as if she hadn’t had a bath in weeks. Her teeth were rotting and hadn’t been brushed for a long time. She had all her belongings in a small backpack she had brought with her. She was hungry and tired. When I went to see her she said, “I am homeless—I sleep on the street, and I have a crack addiction. I know if I stay on the street tonight I will find more crack by morning, and I have decided I don’t want to do that anymore. I need help. And by the way, I’m positive—you know, HIV positive.”
She started to cry. She was desperate. She was 30 weeks pregnant with no prenatal care yet. This was her fourth child. Her other children had been taken away from her. I told her I was proud of her for her decision to seek help.
She got a shower, and we fed her a meal. This alone helped her feel much better. We completed an obstetric evaluation and then coordinated her care so she could see the specialist that could get her into the drug rehab program.
Babies Having Babies
She was crying for her mommy, sucking her thumb, and holding her favorite doll. Yet she was a patient admitted to labor and delivery who was in active labor, and this was more than she had bargained for.
Eleven years old—a baby herself! The time for the big event marched closer and closer. And then time could wait no longer—the baby was born.
She was shocked to see what came out of her. As she looked at her baby she acted as if she were looking at an alien. This wet, bloody, wrinkled, crying baby was what had caused her so much pain. Initially, she didn’t want to touch him.
It must be strange to be a “baby” having a baby, to give the mommy-love that you still need yourself.
She had to take it all in for a moment. Will she bond with this innocent new life that is in desperate need of love and security? Where is the baby’s daddy? Will this baby grow up on the streets? What will be this child’s story when he is 11 years old? These are questions that only time will answer.
Sharing God’s Love
For those of us who have grown up surrounded by love and care, it is hard to believe that there are people all around us who live like these people live. There truly is a need for the human touch of someone who cares, someone who can share God’s love with desperate humanity.

People are starving for more than food and water. What a reward it is to take a few extra minutes with a person in need and let them know that God loves them and has a plan for their lives. Sometimes I hold their hand and pray with them. Many times they will tell me that nobody has ever cared for them like this.
Each of us can touch someone’s life somewhere. There are people all around us who are just as desperate as those I see. They are longing to know that someone cares for them. They may even know God, but need to be reminded that God does love them and has a plan for their lives.

All we need to do is look for opportunities each day to share God’s love with someone else. 
SHERILYN D. GIBBS, R.N.C., C.N.M., is certified in inpatient obstetrics and is a certified nurse midwife. She works in the labor-and-delivery unit at a large metropolitan hospital in Baltimore, Maryland.