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Service With A Heart: The Tiniest Of Lives

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thomas-cunningham-in-operating-room

November 2006 will be a month that I will never forget.

For many years as an operating room nurse, I comforted the crying eyes of a child as I held them and walked away from their mothers and fathers, but this patient was very different from any of my pediatric surgical patients. My patient wasn't a newborn, a toddler or a child. My patients were two unborn children carried within their mother's womb. Two lives that have never felt the touch of their mother's hands, the love of their father, or have ever seen the light of day. Two of the tiniest lives that were fighting for their very existence within their mother's womb with a lethal condition called twin-twin transfusion syndrome. Our team wheeled the expectant mother into the operating room. The operating room was full of people waiting to catch a glimpse of our unborn patients. I had set up my sterile operating room table and had all the necessary supplies and equipment that would be able to help these two unborn patients. Before surgery began, I reached out to the mother's hand and said the only thing I could think to say, "We are going to take care of your babies." With a nervous look on her face she smiled at me and said nothing.{C}{C} The other nurses in the room began to clean her pregnant belly and prepare her for surgery. The surgeons then covered our patient with the sterile drapes and began to work on trying to save both of her babies. The room lights went dim and all we could see on the video screens was the ultrasound image of her two babies and their beating hearts. The surgeons made a small incision and began to insert the tiny camera into the mother's womb. The camera entered the womb and we saw the most amazing image on the video screen. We saw the image of identical twins with 10 fingers, 10 toes, their tiny eyes still shut, and two babies side-by-side fighting for their very existence. Every one watched with wonder and amazement and tensely monitored every movement these tiny lives made within the womb. The room was silent and all that could be heard were the surgeons who were discussing the best way to sever the blood vessels that connected both babies. These babies in the womb were my patients and these were the lives that we would directly affect performing this surgery. I realized that as one of their nurses, I would never hold their hands as I walk them to the operating room, nor will I wipe away their tears and comfort them as they go off to sleep. As the surgeons and the team worked to save these babies, I thought about what we were doing and the consequences of our actions. We were inside a world that most people would never see, and our actions could directly affect their lives and the lives of their parents. I wanted their mother and father to know that all of us cared for their unborn children and wanted to do everything we could do to save them. As this amazing surgery came to a conclusion, I turned to my nursing colleague in the room and asked her to hand me a sterile dressing to place over the wound.

operating-room-heart-guaze

I cut a square at first, but then stopped for a moment and realized that a square dressing on a mother who had just taken such a risk to have her unborn children would not be the right thing to do. I wanted her and her family to know that all of us in that room cared for her safety and for the safety of her unborn children. I wanted them to know that she was not just another patient or a number on an electronic board. I decided to cut out a small heart from the soft dressing that was handed to me. It took several attempts of cutting to get the one heart that I felt was perfect. As the camera came out and the incision was closed, the surgeon asked me for the dressing. I politely asked if I might apply the dressing to our expectant mother. He stepped aside and allowed me to place the small heart over her wound. I gently placed my hand over her dressing. I kept my thoughts to myself as my hand pressed against her abdomen, but I wished the twins the best, and prayed that we had done everything we could to save them. It was my way of comforting the two tiniest of lives that would never know who I was and the role I played in their lives.

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Pavilion for Women