Under the Blue Lights

“Roman candles that burn in the night,
Yeah, you are a shining light…”

Ash – Shining Light is playing on the radio at the tube station coffee shop while I wait for my hot chocolate drink and ham and cheese croissant.

One minute I am looking at the information board telling me that there are 4 trains going to West Ruislip but none to Ealing Broadway and then I am transported back in time…

The year is 2002 – I am 26 years old and I am working at North Middlesex Hospital in my first senior house officer (SHO) post on the special care baby unit. Incidentally, I was born in North Middlesex Hospital- so in some way it felt like I was giving back to society.

Although it is not a tertiary centre it was still very busy. Here I learnt about the basics of ventilation and early management of preterm babies. I had very good registrars – supportive with good clinical skills. The days were filled with endless baby checks (learning how to do and undo every kind of babygro, telling each mother that their baby was the cutest baby I had seen all day, trying to work out if I heard a murmur or not), bilirubin checks and difficult deliveries.

The deliveries were an experience – if all went well – as I handed over the baby wrapped and warm from the resuscitaire I almost cried with joy with the parents. When the babies came out blue and still – my heart raced it was then a battle against time. “Call the registrar!” It was always a relief to hear the baby finally cry and start wriggling. When they did not , it was always a relief to see them respond to ventilation. Difficult conversations in the small hours of the morning.

Other difficult conversations – centred around the yellow, shrunken dehydrated babies who needed phototherapy and fluids. Under the blue lights. So many conversations with emotional, tearful women. They had just gone through one of the most physically and emotionally challenging experiences of their life and now some fresh faced doctor was telling them – “no, your baby cannot go home yet, you cannot go home yet to family and friend and creature comforts, your baby needs to stay under the light”. Testing times…

In those days the neonatal unit was on the 7th floor and after a busy night shift I would always try and find the time to watch the glorious sunrise through the windows opposite the lifts. A moment of calm in a sea of chaos.

Another little oasis of calm was the little lab that contained the bilirubin machine. It took 3 minutes to spin and in that time I would sit on a nearby box in my blue scrubs, close my eyes and rest my head in my hands.

Snap back to 2014 – I have reached White City and it’s time to change.

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. Isn’t it funny how such innocuous everyday things can spark off a flood of memories? I wish we’d ended up with someone who knew their way around heart murmurs when my son was born – the pediatrician fobbed his off as minor, and it wasn’t. Luckily our GP was a little better versed in strange noises when we changed doctor three years later. Kudos for working with tiny babies – the stress must be enormous.

    1. Thanks.

      Quite stressful at times. I am a consultant community paediatrician now, so I do not see them when they are quite so tiny anymore. The little ones mostly arrive in my clinic from three months onwards for developmental assessment. From time to time though, I go to the neonatal unit and every week I join the general paediatricians for their ward round. Its a nice a mixture of the chronic and the acute.

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