21 February 2012

A beginning

Today I participated in my first newborn exam. An excited couple let our gaggle of eight medical students and an attending physician into their hospital room to examine their darling one-day-old child. We listened to her heart sounds, tested her reflexes (such as the "Moro reflex": one lifts the infant slightly up by the arms and lets go, and the infant flails his arms and cries), checked her over head to toe, and even changed her diaper. We felt for the pulse of the femoral artery (artery of the leg) to make sure the blood was circulating properly. We made sure her hips didn't dislocate easily. We checked her face for symmetry and folded her ear to confirm that it flopped back properly. Although newborns and adults are both human, the physical examination for each differs radically.

A few thoughts:
-It still amazes me that just because we are medical students, the couple let us take custody of their most precious thing in the world. Had I gone to public health school instead, I would never have had this chance. The couple explained that they were happy to participate because they were grateful for the excellent care they received from the doctors at the hospital. The patients I see in the free clinic are often in pain, distressed, or mistrustful, and it was a bit strange encountering a happy patient.

-Seeing a newborn made me rather sentimental. It bespeaks new beginnings and clean slates, yet also a connection to the timeless fellowship of man. Human civilization has changed radically over the millennia, so much so that the world today must seem completely alien to someone born even two hundred years ago. Yet there is a common thread: people begin life looking and behaving like the child I had the privilege of examining today.

-The parents had been preparing for months for this birth, and in chatting with them I found that they were a swirl of emotions: giddy, scared, and enamored.

It was my first time handling an infant, and I am amazed at how delicate and adorable these little chaps can be. Our attending physician maintains that she has the happiest job in the hospital. After today, I can see why.