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Night shift

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A sharp cry pierced the air in the delivery room. The young woman had been in labour for over ten hours now. Alec held her hand and spoke softly. He knew she was very tired and very scared. It was the third birth that evening, an absolute record for such a small Clinic, but the other two had been quick. This girl was having her first baby and she was exhausted. Her dark hair was damp with sweat, clinging to her forehead and neck. She looked pale and drawn, and her breathing was shallow and quick.

- Don’t do that, dear, you’ll tyre yourself uselessly. Try breathing slowly. Inhale through your nose, gently… count to five… that’s it… now exhale, blowing slowly… There! Keep it like that, slow and steady.

The woman looked at him and smiled feebly. She was filled with gratitude for that man’s presence at her side. To think she had been somewhat apprehensive when first she laid eyes on him. It was so unusual to see a man in that line of work!

- Thank you… I’m just so tired…!

- I know, dear, but it’ll soon be over. You’ve been very brave and we’re nearly there. Keep breathing… I’ll be here for you.

The doctor lifted his head and smiled. He liked having Scudder in the delivery room. He was all practical, no nonsense, strong when strength was needed, and amazingly sweet with the mothers, much more than some women nurses who could be rather strict occasionally.

-The head is crowning. Next contraction will do it. Now, Mrs. Harmon, the next time you feel a contraction, hold your breath and push as hard as you can…

- Hold my arm and squeeze … - Alec told her – It will help. And scream, if you feel the need.

Ten minutes, a few ragged screams and some contractions later, the baby was out, crying heartily, and the mother could rest. It was a fine, healthy baby boy. Alec’s hand was almost numb and he would have the bruised marks of Mrs. Harmon’s fingers in the morning. Maurice would ask about it, worried and he knew what his answer would be. «It’s all in a day’s work. A woman in labour, poor dear. You’d be astonished at the strength it takes. It’s like pushing a heavy rock up a steep slope!»

- Congratulations, Mrs. Harmon, you have a perfect baby son! Nurse! – called the doctor – Here, take care of this little man, he’s fit as a fiddle. I must wait for the placenta.

Alec carefully took the little crying creature in his arms, wrapping him tightly in a cotton blanket.

- There we go, little one. Hush… let’s bathe and dress you to meet your Mummy. – he cradled the new born close to his body, his voice very low and soothing and the baby stopped crying at once.

- I don’t know how you do that, Scudder! It’s magic!

- Nothing to do with magic, doctor, just plain common sense. He’s been all snug inside his mother’s womb, he’s cold now. All a new born baby needs is a tight warm blanket around him and a soothing voice.

With practiced care and swiftness, Alec bathed, measured and weighted the little one, dressed him, wrapped him in a blue blanket and, having taken notes on the measures, brought him back to his mother’s side. She was resting now, her eyes closed, but she opened them as he came nearer.

- Oh, he’s so beautiful! He looks so tiny…! Can I hold him?

- Of course you can. He’s your son! You did all the hard work… Here, I’ll give you a hand.

He put the small bundle next to her and helped the mother wrap her left arm around it. She looked at her son in wonder. «My little man…» she whispered very softly. Then exhaustion took over and she fell asleep.

- Poor girl, almost eleven hours in labour! Scudder, take the little one to the nursery and I’ll have an orderly take the mother to her room. Let’s hope no one else chooses tonight to come to the world… what a night!

Carrying the sleeping baby to the nursery, Alec looked at the clock on the wall. Two thirty eight a.m. He’d had a tiresome afternoon and this was proving to be a busy night. The small nursery room was almost full.

The Clinic was small, yet it had an obstetrician and although most women in La Valletta gave birth at home with the help of an older female relative or a midwife, these three mothers were alone in Malta, the wives of Government employees, husbands away on work, no relatives to turn to. Alec was at all times very considerate with patients, but was especially careful and gentle with women in labour. He never ceased to be amazed at the amount of strength needed to give birth, and the life threatening, painful experience it was.

He carefully copied all information concerning the baby on a card and put it inside the baby’s cot. He looked in to see the mother, but she was sound asleep. Head Nurse approached.

- We’ll let her sleep for half an hour more and then bring her the baby to feed. I’ll ask nurse Finch to do it. – she looked at Alec, before adding – I expect Mrs. Harmon will be more at ease feeding with a woman in the room…

He smiled at her carefully chosen words.

- Of course, you’re right as usual. Anyway, my shift ends at four. I must go and have the tour with nurse Finch in ten minutes, she’ll be ready in time to fetch baby Harmon.

He knew the older woman had opposed his working at the Clinic at first, saying the patients would not trust a good looking man as nurse; and it would be awkward to have a man assisting deliveries and caring for new born babies. However, the obstetrician had worked with Alec during the war and thought the world of him and the final decision had been his. The man had trained in London with a colleague who had some unorthodox notions about childbirth and had moved to Malta bringing those notions with him. In a few months, Head Nurse had been the first to say she had been wrong, young Scudder was a fine nurse and she wouldn’t trade him for any girl.

Alec spent the last half hour of his shift briefing nurse Finch. They ended the round at the nursery door.

- Three little ones in the nursery. Harmon is to have his first feed as we finish. See that Mrs. Harmon eats something before going to sleep again. She’s had a long labour, poor thing. First child… The other two, follow the regular schedules, mothers know the drill…

Outside it was dark and quiet. He looked up to see the sky. It was clear, dark and starry, with a thin crescent moon. There was a faint warm breeze bringing the smell of a bakery oven nearby mingled with the ever-present sea smell. He had a twenty-minute walk home through narrow and steep streets, all deserted and silent. He walked at a steady pace, longing for their cool, comfortable bed. He knew Maurice would wait up with a book; he always did when Alec was on the night shift, he claimed he couldn’t get used to sleeping alone. Alec pleaded him not to, but he loved it and was looking forward for their night shift night’s routine, a wonderful rub on his aching shoulders, a bit of cuddling, and lazy, drowsy talking about each other’s day, before curling up together to sleep.

At the door, he searched his pockets for the key and entered trying not to make any noise. He went to the kitchen to have a glass of cold milk and some of those delicious biscuits Maurice had baked under Giovanna’s supervision. He heard a cricket. «I wonder how that little rascal came in and where it lurks…!» he thought, carefully climbing the stairs in the dark.