|At the Still Point of the Turning World|
Monday, March 31, 2003
AN UNEXPECTED DUTY
Until today I didn't know that a doctor can perform baptism in cases of emergency, when there is no priest available.
How did I learn this? Last night, a baby died after a 19-minute shoulder dystocia which required transection of the mother's pubic bone to resolve. Even an emergency C-section could not deliver the baby, who weighed over eleven pounds. The Peds team tried to resuscitate him for 26 minutes, but he never took a spontaneous breath. When the resident attending the baby went to report the impending bad news to the obstetrician, she was told--urgently--"Baptize the baby before you declare it dead." What?
Someone handed her a bottle of normal saline, and she bathed the baby's head as she said In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Then her resolve failed her, and she broke down into tears.
This was a rare and terrible event. Today, chaplains and crisis counselors attended to the grieving mother and staff members, while the rest of us grieved by proxy, and wondered what we would do, if called unexpectedly to a makeshift baptismal font.