Not long ago, I mentioned to a family that just when they called about coming to their home for labor, I had ordered a beer with my meal at the local pizza joint. I noted the irony that it had been over nine months since my last beer because I’d been on call constantly for that long. The difference was that it was blistering hot and I’d been painting the exterior of the house all day; a cold beer was just the thing to quench thirst after all that, and what are the chances of getting called at that moment?
The mom said it was an “aha moment” because she realized that midwives have to be on duty, on call and on task 24/7, and we can’t just have a drink whenever we wish. We all enjoyed a good laugh about it together, but that was only half the story.
Last week I got hit with a nasty upper respiratory illness. Luckily, it was the first bug I’ve had in several years! I broke out my home remedies and dug into the herbal medicine cabinet. I slathered up with wintergreen, wild oregano and lavender
Days one through three were tolerable with a mild headache, scratchy throat and chapped lips. On day four I cu
rsed the day I was born with a non-productive cough that made my stuffed sinuses throb in protest. I pined for a good night’s sleep and prayed with all my heart that my client, who was past her due date by one week and three days, would hold on a couple more days so this bug would run it’s course before she needed me. A good night’s sleep, that’s what I needed…a proper rest!
The occasion of a week-long respiratory virus would send any reasonable person straight to the corner pharmacy for a big bottle of Nyquil to accommodate the need for peaceful sleep, but not this midwife! Did I mention the matter of a client who was more than a week past her due date? Indeed, midwives are better off not getting sick at all!
When I take Nyquil, I sleep freakishly hard; so hard that I don’t wake up for two whole days after a single dose! I don’t hear, can’t remember and won’t accomplish anything until the medication wears completely off! And herein lies a midwife’s true conundrum, as it really doesn’t bother me to go months, even years on end without drinking an adult beverage. In fact, I like having persistent clarity of mind that comes from long-term sobriety. But the inability to take medication when sick a real challenge. The midwife always has to be alert and show up, ready for the rare situation in which a client needs the skills that we train for.
My client ended up having the baby on day five of my bug. I slept fitfully from ten pm until three am, “the birthing hour”, when the call came and it was time to go. Despite having a cough and sinus headache, I made my way to their home, donned the mask, washed up often and let my student do the majority of the work….That is, until something seemed amiss. This turned out to be one of those rare occasions when a midwife life-guard has to jump in the water and help two people keep from drowning. We had an intense, fast-forming situation that required intentional, precise steps to be remedied. And was I ever thankful for not having taken the cold and sleep medicine.
When we departed the birth, I considered very seriously going home and taking that medication. Now that the imminent birth was completed, it would have been great to sleep off the stress of a difficult situation along with relief from the bug I’d been wrestling. But somehow it didn’t seem necessary anymore. Maybe the adrenaline involved with handling an emergency had an immune-boosting effect. Perhaps the offending virus had run it’s course. Either way, it became unnecessary to induce sleep, and now I’m glad that I didn’t lose a couple days to sleeping off the cold medicine.