by Robert J. Lanz, LCSW
(More than one reader suggested I lighten things up this week after that cop story. Too heavy I guess. Anyway, your sentiments are appreciated and well taken. Doesn’t get much lighter than this in the ER:)
The lights were flashing, the siren was wailing, a Code Three entrance all the way to the front door with barely enough time to make a radio call to get us ready in the ER. The EMT’s worst nightmare is delivering a baby in the back of the ambulance, so it’s pedal to the metal and desperate prayers for getting the patient to us on time. Every paramedic I’ve ever met wants to have done at least one of these “field deliveries”, but “field deliveries” are mostly exciting in the past tense, as resume-building occurrences, as in “I’m proud that I did one, but I wouldn’t want to make a habit of it.” Too many things can go wrong, and for a lot of unlucky paramedics, they have. Backwards babies. Junkie babies turning blue. Twins with complications. Although they would never admit it, many paramedics would rather have their patient end life on the way to the hospital than begin it.
The ambulance team cleared the door and got their screaming patient into our bed, relief obvious on their flushed, sweaty faces. It was our turn.
The very large pregnant lady had brought along her very large Mexican family with her, four or five men and a few women cousins, ranging in age from their twenties to their fifties, all with big hearts and bigger voices. Their frequent bursts of laughter and high-pitched, staccato Spanish told me they were determined to make the night into a festive occasion.
Their behavior also told me that they’d been drinking heavily before the woman’s water burst because they were all pretty relaxed, so to speak. The men in the group were in full party mode, joking and getting physical with one another, while one of the young women sang off-key in Spanish. If it hadn’t been against the rules, they probably would have brought more beer into the waiting room with them.
No one in the group spoke English, putting an additional complication on things we didn’t need. Nothing about the situation seemed to bother them and it occurred to me that maybe they had been through this emergency delivery thing before. It was possible that they had a better handle on what was going on than we did.
I’ve traveled a lot and I lived in Mexico for a while, so I speak decent Spanish, but I wouldn’t want to take a test in it. In truth, translating in difficult situations has led to a few mistakes that I wouldn’t want known. My Spanish grammar was shaky at best, but I had a pretty fair grasp on nouns and verbs. Unfortunately, no one else on the team that night was even that advanced in the language, and it’s my job to deal with families in whatever state they arrive regardless of linguistic barriers.
The guys in this group might have been in the geographical state of California but after half hour of hilarious miscommunications, it was obvious that they were in the mental state of Mexico and were darn proud of it. Before long, I was having as good a time as they were, and started thinking about how nice a margarita would go down.
“Is there a book of names?” they asked. Libro de nombres. “We need to choose a name for the baby.”
A book of names? No one had ever asked for a book of names before and I couldn’t find anyone in the ER who knew about one either. I called up to labor and delivery and asked a nurse friend about a book of names but she didn’t have one. The library was closed and at that time of night and so was everything else. I couldn’t even call the maternity department at Kmart for an informal consult.
“Sorry,” I told them. “No book. You’ll have to make something up.” At least that’s what I think I said.
They just looked at me and laughed and laughed some more. They laughed so hard that I started laughing with them.
The door swung open and a nurse entered, smiling. “Congratulations.” she said, as she made eye contact with each of the men in the room.
“Someone’s a father. It’s a boy”
I think I was able to translate that right because one guy stepped forward, shook my hand and thanked me. I told them they would be able to see the baby in a few minutes after we cleaned him up and I reassured them that the mother was doing fine.
“Un Nino. Un otro nino. Que suerte,” the father said.
He was a happy guy. Now if we could just get a name for junior we could finish the paperwork, get them all upstairs to labor and delivery, clean the room and get ready for whatever was going to happen next. I looked in on a few other patients and returned to the waiting room a few minutes later with the forms that would have to be filled out.
It’s not unheard of for a family to leave the hospital without naming their newborn, but I’ve learned that at least in this country, identity is a valuable commodity, especially for immigrants. A person’s paper trail starts at birth, and I hoped to get this young man and his family headed in the right direction.
“Did you pick a name yet?” I asked.
“Si, senor, Bob,” the happy father said.
“OK, what’s the name?” I asked.
“Bob,” he said.
I thought my Spanish was off again so I repeated the question. “Cual es el nombre?” His answer didn’t change. His English was spot on, at least when it came to names. He said it again; and his amigos shouted a chorus of affirmation. They wanted to name the kid Bob.
“You want his name to be Bob? Not Roberto?”
“That’s right, Bob. Like on your chest.”
I looked down at my nametag.
“The baby is an American. He should have an American name,” they said with fierce determination.
I felt my face flush with pride. A baby with an American name: my name. Other than helping to keep the festive atmosphere going and attempting to communicate with the family in their native language, I hadn’t done much to earn naming rights, but I was honored. I hoped then that the baby with my name would be lucky enough to grow up with my sense of humor. He was going to need it, going through life explaining why his name is Bob Villanueva de Jesus Garcia.