New Life Begins At 36

I began my four years of medical school on a military scholarship with my wife and two children at 36 years old. My three-year residency training started as an intern at forty. It was a life choice that has enriched me daily.

My favorite rotation early in medical school was obstetrics at the nearby community hospital.  I found myself one evening under the tutelage of a family medicine resident doing a fellowship in complicated obstetrics.  He was perfecting his surgical Cesarean-section deliveries.

The state would pay his malpractice insurance so he could continue to deliver babies as he had been trained. Most Family Medicine physicians were prohibited from obstetrics following their residency by the huge premium added to their malpractice insurance costs. In a country where suing doctors is a seeming national pastime, the obstetrician near the top of the list.

“OK, Bob, the labor deck is full tonight.  We have eight in active labor.  I plan to deliver every baby that comes out above the waist, and I expect you to deliver the ones that come out below the waist.  Is that OK with you?” he said, smiling.

His home in rural Tennessee had fewer obstetric doctors than were needed, and they were located far apart.  Family medicine doctors in underserved areas often needed to do their own Caesarian-section deliveries.   This evening he was in the operating room, and I was on the labor deck to catch all the vaginal births I could.  There was a board-certified obstetrician somewhere, but I had yet to see her.

“Yes, sir,” I replied expectantly.  This was a medical student’s dream come true.

I wore a clean set of green scrubs and my student white coat with pockets stuffed with the tools of the trade.  I had a stethoscope, reflex hammer, penlight, antibiotic manual, and obstetrics pocketbook.  The coat would come off when we got down to the baby delivery business, but it would not be far away. The information I sometimes needed was not in my brain yet.  It was in the books.

The baby-catching business was usually pretty simple.  But when something went wrong with a delivery, it was often unexpected and critical.   Nature had given women the ability to have children at home, and in the woods, and in the middle of nowhere since time began.  I needed to play catch and wait for the placenta to follow.