Prompt Day #324: The printer is sending your protagonist strange messages
Category 666 FHTs
“Doctor, can you come to the desk and look at these fetal heart tones; we aren’t sure what to make of them.” My best nurse asked on the other line. I was just down the hall in my call room. I didn’t go home, something told me this was not going to be a straightforward delivery.
“Sure” I said and hung up. I dreaded going back into the room. I’d never really bonded with this couple who rarely came to appointments, who had sought all sorts of alternative medicines in order to get pregnant and who had taken so many strange and unusual supplements that I could not approve of. Why they had decided to come to the hospital to deliver, I wasn’t sure, but having very little information on a pregnancy always made me uneasy.
I walked up to the desk, seeing three nurses huddled around the strip. They immediately made room for me. I studied the strip. Over the last eight years of practice, I’m sure I’ve seen thousands of fetal heart rate strips, as a trainee, I was tested on them. I’ve seen irregular heart rhythms, heart blocks, and fetal distress of every kind. But this strip was like nothing I’d ever seen. My first thought of course was that this was an elaborate joke.
“Very funny you guys.” I said “How’d you do this?” I didn’t need to wait for an answer though, when I looked into their faces, I knew this was no joke. The black jagged lines meant to reflect the heart from one beat to another printing out as a pattern my eye would immediately recognize as reassuring or non-reassuring. This strip had a familiarity to it, don’t get me wrong; I recognized the two little horns and the spiked beard scribbled quickly beat by beat on the paper. I knew that by adding a couple horizontal lines I would see the three pentagrams in a row.
“Have you ever seen anything like this?” My nurse asked. I shook my head. I walked into the patient’s room. She was lying on the bed breathing through her contractions. The fetus inside her belly wriggled up to the surface, pushing its appendages up through the skin as if it was trying to rip out of her abdomen. I watched her for a moment.
“My water broke just before you came in” she said. Her voice was monotonous and without any evidence of pain. I lifted the blanket to look for the tell-tale puddle of fluid under her butt. There was a puddle, but it was thick and black. The smell indicated a bad infection. I felt her head for a fever, but she was cool, almost abnormally so.
“I’m going to go get your nurse, we’ll get you cleaned up and I’ll check your cervix for dilation” I said. I rushed out of the room to keep from gagging.
“I think it’s chorio.” I said, glancing back at the strip printing what now looked like a series of knives, the kind Michael Myers used in the Halloween movies. “Let’s go.” I said. If I had to go back in that room, I wasn’t going alone.
I put my glove on and sat on the bed beside her. I held my breath so as not to smell that putrid fluid continually sliding out of her like raw but rancid egg whites. I slid my gloved and lubricated fingers inside her oddly cold vagina up to the cervical edges. The trick is to go until you feel the cervical edge of the head of the baby then spread your fingers out until you touch each edge of the cervix and use the space between your fingers to estimate dilation. Occasionally, with your fingers on its head, the baby will squirm and turn a little which can be a surprise to the novice Obstetrician. I’m not a novice. I am usually only surprised when instead of a head there are feet and the twos attempt to curl around your fingers. Which is unnerving. Until that day, I had never been bitten by a baby, and have certainly never felt teeth like that on a fetus. The bite made me scream and I pulled out my hand. There was a hole in my glove and I saw my blood intermingling with the oil-like fluid on my glove.
I left the room without a word. The water at the scrub sink was cold but it felt good on the searing heat burning into my finger. It was already swollen to double its size. After a thorough scrub, I headed back to the desk.
“I need to wrap my finger up before I go back in there.” I held it in my hand, it was throbbing.
“Let me get you something.” My nurse said and rushed off. The others had dissipated as well, maybe too frightened to stick around and see how it ended or maybe bored with the strangeness (which in medicine is not all that rare). I was left alone at the desk. The printer alarm was going off, signifying a loss of heart tones or heart tones outside of the normal range. I pulled the strip out to look at the most recent pattern. The baseline rate is listed in large numbers in the corner ever twenty minutes or so. Now the number was 666 and the tracing looked like a mouthful of sharp teeth, like the ones that just dug deep into my finger.
Something was very wrong here, the whole picture was wrong. I didn’t want to be there, I did not want to bring this child into the world. My nurse returned and bandaged my finger. The next alarm to go off came from the patient’s room. My nurse and I looked at each other.
“Are you ready for this?” She asked me. I nodded. I was ready.
We walked in the room together. The temperature in the room had dropped so much that I could see my breath. I could see my nurse’s breath too. But the patient and her husband showed no signs of respirations. I sat down on the bedside and waited. The woman leaned up and pulled her legs back towards her. She growled low in the back of her throat as she pushed. I kept me hands at the perineum, waiting for the head to crown. The fetal heart rate strip in the room continued to print out warnings of death and pain and satanic symbols.
The father of the baby was somewhere behind me. I could hear him meandering back and forth. I didn’t like it. I tried to focus on the task at hand. The head began to crown. I saw the little nubs of future horns pushing up below the skin on the baby’s forehead. When a baby’s head delivers, most doctors reach down to see if there is a cord wrapped around the neck, if there is, we slip it over the head and then deliver the body if at all possible.
I felt the cord and I thanked God for that. I didn’t slip it over the head, instead, I pulled it tighter. She pushed. I pushed back, holding the thing inside her. My nurse looked over the patient’s leg and saw what I was doing. She opened her mouth and then closed it. She turned the fetal heart rate monitor off. I finished the job and let the dead monster slip out of its host.
“Doctor!” The nurse said suddenly. I didn’t need to look up to ask what she was telling me. The mother was dead. I already knew that, I knew it the moment I walked in the room that she would not survive this. She was the host for a deadly parasite. It wasn’t the mother I was worried about, I turned around to see if the father had caught on to what had happened. He was gone. Just gone. I ran to the door and looked out. There was no one out at the desk or in the hallway. When I looked back, I saw my nurse wrapping the dead baby up in a blanket, she tucked its tail inside so it wasn’t hanging out. With the blanket up over its head, covering the nubs and the tail tucked inside, it looked almost human. The mother, looked cadaveric. She’d been dead a long time.
“What’s our story?” she asked. I shrugged. I hadn’t thought that far.
“I don’t think the strip is going to do us any good. Let’s shred it.”
“What a sad thing, for the mother to come in and code like that.” She said ripping the paper off the printer.
“At least the baby never had any heart tones to begin with.” I said, signing off on the delivery form: “Stillborn male infant, multiple anomalies.”