As the first snow of December fell outside, the woman in room 3F looked at the baby girl that had been placed in her arms by the floor nurse. She stroked the black hair on her head and wondered at the tiny lashes, small nose and the softness of her teak colored skin. Her daughter was finally here. Back in early March, Catalina had hoped and prayed that this child would survive and not be lost to another miscarriage. Having gone through that hell twice, her and Jaime had been cautiously optimistic. As she touched her baby’s arms and legs she knew she’d forever be indebted to Edith and Dr. Thomas. If it hadn’t been for Edith’s curiosity over the preemie they wouldn’t have run into Dr. Thomas who took one look at Catalina’s very pregnant belly and immediately asked why she was still pregnant. She closed her eyes and reflected on how the day had had an unexpected yet joyous ending.She had woken up early to see Jaime off to work as a taxi driver and then she had gotten ready to meet Edith. Because of the cold weather which was nothing like her home climate of Cali, Colombia where she had grown up she had layered herself with two pairs of maternity pants, two pairs of socks, a thick yellow sweater over one of Jaime’s T-shirts and her coat with a hat and gloves. Patting her belly she talked to her daughter,
“Hola nena. Tenemos que ir al hospital porque todavía no has llegado.”
It was December thirtieth and even though the due date the doctor in Cali had given her had come and gone the doctors at Woodhull kept saying it wasn’t time. Edith who was a distant cousin of her husbands went with her to act as translator because Catalina couldn’t understand any of the medical terminology with her limited English.
From her house they walked to the subway and got on a Brooklyn bound 2 train from Gun Hill Road to Fulton where they transferred to the J train that brought them to Woodhull Medical Center at Flushing Avenue. As they’d ridden the train, Catalina commented to Edith how she was worried because even though they had her coming for weekly visits there was no indication of the baby being ready for birth and soon it would be ten months since she and Jaime had created this new life. When they arrived the wait was shorter than the week before and they once again saw Dr. Harris who was one of the OB-GYNs on rotation. As he finished examining Catalina, Edith asked the doctor if they could induce labor and he responded that Catalina couldn’t be due before January because the baby was not in position.
“Doctor, Catalina says that she was given a due date of November thirtieth and a month later she’s still pregnant.”
“Ma’am the lady is wrong. She likely has no idea when she conceived. This baby won’t be born today. Go home and come back next week.”
Edith turned to Catalina and spoke to her,
“Catalina el dice que no darás luz hasta enero porque no sabes cuando te embarazaste.”
“Que, que? Pero si estamos a finales de diciembre y he estado preñada desde marzo!”
Dr. Harris excused himself and even though Edith asked him to wait he left the room. The two women looked at each other and Catalina clenched her hands with impotent fury. How dare that man say she didn’t know when she had conceived.
“Ese hijo ‘e puta! Como se atreve a decir semejada tonteria!”
“Ay Catalina no se que decir. Porque no vamos a comer algo?”
Catalina didn’t want to eat but she also knew that it had been several hours since breakfast so she followed Edith. As they walked down the hall to the elevators, Edith asked if they could go look at the preemie that had been born the week before and was miraculously still alive even though he only weighed one pound and was born eight and half weeks too early. They walked past the elevators and headed towards the Neonatal unit. It was as they looked in at the tiny babies that Dr. Thomas came out of the doors next to the bank of windows and abruptly stopped.
“Mrs. Ruiz? Why are you here?”
“Hola Doctor. I have cita today.”
“But you’re still pregnant? Aren’t you past your due date?”
He looked at Catalina with a confused expression and asked Edith why they were at the hospital. Edith told him about the earlier appointment and Catalina’s worries about how late her baby already was.
“Mrs. Centeno can you guys come back in an hour. I have to go to lunch but I want to examine Mrs. Ruiz myself, just to be on the safe side.”
“Ok Doctor we’ll go eat and come back. Should we go to the waiting room when we get back?”
“No come back to the NICU and ask any of the nurses to page me.”
He looked at Catalina and tried to speak some Spanish in hopes that she would understand him.
“Mrs. Ruiz yo miro el baby luego.”
Catalina smiled while Edith chuckled at the doctor’s attempts and the slight flush on his face. The two women watched him walk away and Edith turned to Catalina,
“Vamos a buscar algo de comer.”
“Pues no tengo tanto hambre pero la bebé quiere papitas fritas.”
The two women went to the IHOP because the cafeteria was overflowing with people and Catalina ate the fries that came with Edith’s burger. When they were done they headed back to the NICU and waved at Roberto the guard who was there every time they came. Edith found a nurse to page Dr. Thomas and then they were shown to an examining room.
As Catalina continued to look around the room’s peach walls and the window that looked out onto the street she thought about how Dr. Thomas and his nurses had examined her first with one ultrasound machine followed by another and another until one of the older nurses pointed out the fact that the same machines had been used earlier in the day on other women and they had “worked” earlier. The door opened and Jaime ran into the room.
“Catalina! Amor como estás?”
“Tenemos una hija Jaime!”
She handed their daughter to him and started to tell him everything that had happened. As he touched his daughters little fingers, his wife explained how she had been rushed into emergency surgery after the nurses and Dr. Thomas realized that the lack of a heartbeat was probably because it was too weak for the any of the ultrasound machines to pick up and the baby was in distress. Catalina had been given a form to sign and then she had been taken to a room where she’d been put under. As she continued to describe the ordeal, Jaime’s warm mahogany skin turned ashen as he realized how close he had come to losing his family. He noticed the pallor underneath his wife’s chocolate skin and hated that he’d been at work while she’d been going through the birth of their baby alone.
The baby girl in his arms let out a small sound and then scrunched her face. Jaime looked at Catalina with a silly grin and as he started to speak his daughter exercised her lungs with a loud screech.
“Que le pasa, Catalina?”
“Alomejor tiene hambre? Pasamela.”
As he passed his baby girl back to her mother, his hands trembled slightly. She lifted the baby up to her breast and her little mouth latched on to the nipple. He moved closer and rested his hand on Catalina’s shoulder. His wife could have died while he was driving all over the city. He leaned over slightly and kissed Catalina’s forehead. She looked up at him, smiled and nuzzled his cheek. His throat grew tight and a few tears escaped. He buried his face in his wife’s neck and murmured that he loved her over and over.
A few minutes later there was a knock and one of the floor nurses came in to check on mother and child. On her heels was Dr. Thomas with three younger doctors who were still in school. Jaime walked over to them and hugged Dr. Thomas.
“Thank you, sir, thank you! You are good doctor. Thank you!”
“I was just dong my job. I’m really glad that everything turned out well. We don’t want to intrude but I just want to check them both out and make sure everything is okay. These are my students who will observe.”
“Si, doctor you can check. Thank you.”
Dr. Thomas checked mother and child and made some comments to his students about her delivery, that neither parent really understood. All that mattered to them was that this man had saved their child and without him everything could have ended in tragedy. After the doctor and his students left, the floor nurse came in to take the baby back to the nursery. Catalina and Jaime both kissed the girl on her cheeks and forehead and watched as the nurse left with their little miracle.
“Jaime a mi me gusta Sofia Carmen? Que tu piensas?”
“Es perfecto como tú! Sofia Carmen Ruiz! Nuestra hija!”
Jaime leaned over to hug and kiss his wife when the door opened again and Edith entered the room with her husband. As the two couples greeted each other, Catalina was overwhelmed with gratitude and started to tear up as she hugged Edith.
“Gracias Edith, gracias. Sin ti no tuviera mi bebita.”
“Yo no hice nada Catalina. Pero estoy tan alegre que todo salio bien.”
As the women talked, Jaime asked Edith’s husband Roger to step out into the hall with him.
“Roger thank you. You and your wife are good to us.”
“Jaime we’re family. I’m just glad I could track you down through your dispatcher. Have you guys picked a name for her yet?”
“Si, Sofia Carmen Ruiz. She is beauty like her mother.”
“I’m really happy that everything turned out well. My cousin’s friend lost her baby here because the nurses waited too long to call a doctor. You are blessed.”
Jaime’s smile dimmed a little at Roger’s statement but just the thought of his baby girl filled him with joy. As he looked at his wife, he knew he’d been blessed.