Studying Medicine

Not all babies grow up

I enjoyed obstetrics so much last year, not for the “miracle of new life”, but for the influence one might have. I keep thinking: There are 15 babies learning to walk in this province, and the first person to touch them, to see that they are perfect, was me.

We performed an autopsy on a two-month-old baby who was born at 32 weeks gestation. It seemed like a SUDI – Sudden Unexpected Death in Infants – but the initial doctor queried negligent parenting.

The baby was small – extremely small. About half the size of a term baby. I don’t know if the inquest will determine that there was some negligence. The educational worth here was more morphological.

We could see six occification centres on the sternum – six! A term baby may have two or three.

We saw an almost-closed ductus arteriosus.

We saw perfect organs. A small, but normal-looking brain. Kidneys the size and shape of large beans. The tiniest little heart, but everything where it should be.

There was milk in the baby’s stomach – so for what it’s worth, the mother did apparently try to keep her fed. Poverty does not automatically constitute negligence.

There is something breathtaking about such tiny, perfect organs. All of them perfect, until they weren’t.

We found milk in the lungs.

I am not to postulate about the pathologist’s findings, or what will happen to the mother. These situations are sad, and can bulldoze you if you let it. To some extent you have to let it touch you, I suppose. But to some extent you must also learn from it as much as you can.

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