My Hardest Night: A Nurse’s Story

There have been many difficult nights in my 12 years as a registered nurse. Deaths happen in medicine. Sometimes they are anticipated, sometimes they come unexpectedly.

As I think back over the years, I remember the woman, in her 80s, who was suffering from congestive heart failure. Her family sat by her bedside, holding her hand as she gasped her last few breaths. I also remember the man, only in his 30s, who was hit by a drunk driver while on the way home from work. I arrived at the scene of the accident and saw the blank stare of someone in severe shock. On the way to the hospital, despite all our attempts to resuscitate him, this young man died in the back of the ambulance. It would have been hard for me to believe that night, but my most difficult night was yet to come.

One night last August the intensive care nursery was especially busy. As I began my shift that evening, I noticed right away that there was an extra amount of tension in the room. There have been emergency calls from other hospitals that day, and our transport team had been busy bringing in three infants requiring special care which our nursery could provide. Two of the babies were very critical. I could see that it would be difficult night.

What I was not prepared for was our next admission, which I was to be responsible for, since I was the least busy at the time. The nurse from Labor and Delivery walked into our unit carrying a blanket and stating “This is a prostaglandin abortion. He has a heartbeat so we brought him over.” The baby was placed under a radiant warmer and I was told the rest of the facts. The gestational age of the baby was given to be 23 weeks by ultrasound. The mother had cancer and had received chemotherapy treatments before discovering that she was pregnant. The parents had been told that their baby would be horribly deformed because of the chemotherapy.

I looked at the baby boy lying before me, and saw that from all appearances he was perfect. He had a good strong heartbeat. I could tell this without using a stethoscope because I could see his chest moving in sync with his heart rate. With a stethoscope I heard a heart pumping strongly. I look at his size and his skin — he definitely looked more mature than 23 weeks. He was weighed and I discovered that he was 900 grams, almost two pounds. This was almost twice the weight of some babies we have been able to save. A doctor was summoned. When she arrived the baby started moving his tiny arms and legs flailing. He started trying to gasp, but was unable to get air into his lungs. His whole body shuddered with his efforts to breathe. We were joined by a neonatalist and I pleaded with both doctors saying, “The baby is viable — look at his size, look at his skin — he looks much older than 23 weeks.”

it was a horrible moment as each of us wrestled with our own ethical standards. I argued that we should make an attempt to resuscitate him, to get him breathing. The resident doctor told me, “This is an abortion. We have no right to interfere.” The specialist, who had the responsibility for the decision, was wringing his hands and quietly saying, “This is so hard. Oh, God, it’s so hard when it’s this close.” In the end, I lost. We were not going to try to resuscitate this baby. So, I did the only thing I could do. Dipping my index finger into sterile water and placing it on his head, I baptize the child. Then I wrapped him in blankets to keep him warm, and held him. These were the only measures I could take comfort the baby under the circumstances, no matter how much I wanted to do more. I held this little boy, who was still gasping for breath, trying to stay alive on his own. As the tears flowed down my face, I pray to God that he would take this child into his care, and that he would forgive me for my own part in his death. After a while, he stopped gasping. His heart continued to be, but the beating became slower and weaker until it finally stopped. He was gone.

It seems so ironic. No more than 5 feet from where I was watching this baby die, a team of doctors and nurses were gathered around a severely ill infant. They were trying every treatment they could to save this baby, while I stood alone with an infant who had a good chance to survive. But we did nothing for him. As it turned out, we lost both of them.

By Barbara. From Vital Signs: the Journal of the Friendship Pregnancy Center fall 1991

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25 thoughts on “My Hardest Night: A Nurse’s Story”

  1. bless you for comforting him, I do wonder if the parents knew how perfect he was, after all it sounded like they only did it, fore they were told it would have birth defects.

    1. Thank you!
      I was told that the parents didn’t want to know the sex or if the baby was alive. I wanted to let them know that the baby was baptized, but was not allowed. I have always believed the parents were not given enough time to consider their decision. They had listed their religion as Catholic.

  2. I praise you for comforting that child and doing all that you could to make him feel at ease in his last moments. He was perfection, nothing short of perfection.

  3. Saying “we have no right to interfere” with a baby born alive from an attempted abortion makes as much sense as saying “we have no right to interfere” when a child is brought in with trauma from parental abuse.

  4. It s so hard , but in the end its easy , that baby needed to be protected and the fact that it was aborted was a crime , but the fact that once aborted it showed strong signs of life , should have been nurtured , dont think you can blame the parents , they took the Doctors advice and it turned out he was wrong , the baby was unharmed by the chemotherapy , but who would terminate the life of a baby of nearly six months gestation , wouldnt you want evidence that the Doctor was right ? , but some people feel the Doctor IS God and therefore rarely wrong , an unfortunate point of view.
    When I was a Cadet Nurse , only sixteen years old , gynae clinic was busy one afternoon , and I was asked to help out at outpatients , when I got there , there was a seventeen year old girl , paradoxically she was a nurse as well at a nearby hospital , she was only six weeks pregnant but she had returned for her 4th abortion , the Consultant granted her wish and put her on the waiting list of two weeks , for a bad , when I was with her as she got redressed , I really wanted to tell her please dont go ahead and get this termination , you will be glad you didnt but didnt want to be accused of affecting her decision by my own dislike of abortion was aware that I would be acting in a biased , partial way , so I said nothing even though I sometimes think of her and feel sad , even feel guilty about talking about it now , but who knows , I might have been able to stop her , sometimes a person is just waiting for someone to point out their mistake , before reconsidering , its like they need support for the less easy option , abortion draws and contaminates everyone within hitting distance because its a sin , and that is NOT a partisan comment.

  5. I think parents (used loosely) need to be MADE to hold these babies once the are born, dead or alive. They need to know the just killed a baby and a doctor has no right to walk away from this baby refusing to save it!! That doctor is just as culpable for murder ad the parents and doctor who performed this murder.

  6. Dear Tech, thank you so very much for your soft heart and for loving and nuturing this baby during his short time on earth. God saw your kind actions toward his beloved and was pleased with you. God bless you and see you at the Lamb’s Wedding Feast.

    1. Thank you! Your kind words are so encouraging. I had no idea this article had been published so many times. I wrote this 26 years ago and my testimony has taken me many places. That night changed my life forever. This is confirmation to me that God wanted this story told.

    2. Gee, I’m so glad he was baptized before he was murdered through neglect, after being almost murdered through abortion. I mean, he was so obviously full of “sin” I’m sure he needed it. Don’t do anything real to help; its not like your actions actually matter. Maybe the prolife movement would have a real impact without so much focus on all this fairytale bullcrap nonsense. You aren’t a hero; you’re a coward. Your precious Bible specifically states that one category of people who end up in hell are cowards so if you really believe in that crap, you ought to be worried.

      1. You are right, I am not a hero. I never thought I was. A hero is a person who wears a uniform and fights to keep our country free. A hero is someone who is willing to put their life on the line and run into a burning building. A hero is someone who goes to work and never knows if they will live to see the end of their shift while protecting our communities.

        1 John 1, 8 & 9 says,” If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from our righteousness.”

        The truth is I am a sinner saved by grace. I can only pray that you will know Him before it is too late.

      2. Kelly, your harsh words have me concerned. Have you never needed medical treatment? Been admitted to a hospital through an ER? Gone in for emergency surgery? Watched a loved one in pain or suffering due to a medical issue? 100 % of the time these people come into contact with a nurse, who you may not know it, but has spent countless hours working to comfort someone whose dying, take care of someone whose ill, be treated badly by an irate family member, just to return and do it all again the next day for another 12 hours, wether it be christmas day or a regular tuesday.. nurses are there. The bible may not say this but I pray you may never need any kind of serious medical attention, you might have to get it from a coward whose worked their ass off to save your damn life. God forbid. Walk that day in her shoes then you can throw stones, until then Id recommend keeping your ignorant comments to yourself, its embarrasing. Sincerely, a Nurse with a sister whose a Nurse. Ps. There’s plenty of nurses who are heroes to millions of people.

  7. these babies have a right to life, after they are born whether it is an abortion or not, they have civil rights once they are born. And Ethically we should not even debate this. But Abortion has turned into late late term abortion and then into infantcide. Murder is a crime in this country. We need to procecute these people who refuse care to a sick baby. No wonder the world hates this country we have no morals, jesus deliver us from evil!!

    1. I agree. If I was this nurse, I don’t think I would have been able to hold myself back. I would have saved that child and if that meant me getting fired, so be it. Pretty sure a life is worth more than a job.

      1. Unfortunately I didn’t and still don’t have all the skills to save a baby this size by myself. It takes a team of professionals and equipment to successfully save a very premature baby.

        1. Thank you, Barbara, for holding this little one… for doing what you could…

          Had this baby lived, it would be about my age now, if I’m doing my math right. I was a baby that “should have been aborted due to life circumstance”. This baby could have been me, had my mother made a different choice.

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