A Thanksgiving Moment in the Labor Room

A pregnant African immigrant reminds a burnt-out ob-gyn physician of her calling.

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The full moon brought a downpour of babies that we could not catch fast enough in labor and delivery that hot summer night. I was sweaty, hungry, and tired. The air conditioner appeared not to be working yet again, which only added to my mounting frustration and foul mood.

Almost three decades ago, there were no computers where a resident physician could casually monitor patients remotely as they do now. Back in the day, you had to get up off your butt and physically examine a patient. Insert an IV. Write orders and be able to make a diagnosis correctly.

I groaned and rolled my eyes as another patient entered our crowded triage unit. She was young, perhaps no older than 17 or 18 years old, and was probably from Senegal as Harlem had become the new epicenter for Senegalese immigrants and merchants. We admitted her, and she labored quietly in one of our few remaining beds. When the time came for her delivery, she pushed stoically for a brief period, and then her baby emerged, wailing and in apparent good health. As I cut the baby’s umbilical cord, my young patient sat up from the delivery table, looked deeply into my eyes, and said in halted English, “Thank . . . you.” I fought back tears as I said, “You’re welcome.”

I quickly removed my mask and gown once I knew there were no complications and rushed into the on-call room, where I wailed uncontrollably.  It was the first time anyone ever thanked me for delivering their baby. Those two words, “thank you,” brought my life and purpose back into focus: a sweet and humble reminder of why I was training to become an obstetrician-gynecologist.

In this season of Thanksgiving, I challenge each of you to remember the most meaningful moments in your life. Sometimes our greatest gift is a simple yet laudable expression of gratitude.  

“In everything, give thanks.”

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