That summer was in the year of the seventeen year cicada. First, we saw only their shells haunting the trees and bushes and occasionally the children would find one of the strange moths on the driveway, breathing out its last bit of life after waiting under the ground for so many years. An entire existence in the dark for this one moment in the sunshine, this one moment’s claim on immortality.
With the warming days, swarms seemed to appear over night. As I peeled a sticky child from my chest with one hand, reaching with my other to silence the beeping phone that was causing him to stir, I heard their machinery-like love song over the hum of the window air conditioner. I tiptoed around the house, feeling the heat of the day beginning to sink in even at the early hour and, as I stepped outside, the full chorus of the cicada greeted me. For a moment, it sounded like an alarm sounding all around me. The heaviness of the air clung to me and every other living thing. The overgrown grass in our unkempt yard seemed to sweat. I placed my bags in the car and forced myself in, turning on the air-conditioning as quickly as I could. I took a long slow breath and felt a day’s worth of fatigue already overwhelming me. It was a bad day to be covering the labor floor.
My drive to the hospital was a quick one. We had bought our house several years before with the single goal of a very quick commute. When you spend as many continuous hours locked inside a brick building as I did, the thought of spending any significant amount of time getting there and back is unconscionable. Though, as far as hospitals go, it was a nice one. Set in the green suburban hills a short distance from New York City, it had a more serene ambiance than most. The grounds were always perfectly manicured with new seasonal flowers appearing each month. There were even beautiful gardens, ponds, and walking paths designed for the emotional well-being of patients, staff, and other guests, though I know very few staff who had ever seen them. The hallways in the main entrance were marble and friendly women greeted you upon entering. Each day, one of the local florists brought a fresh arrangement of flowers for the entry. It all made for a nice picture on the pamphlets and billboards advertising maternity services to the community. Only the creaking and stalling of the elevators revealed the building’s age and the administration’s reluctance to address bare bones issues. Compared to some of the more urban hospitals I had visited while exploring residency options, it was a paradise.
The morning started off quiet enough. After getting the morning report, I went to see a few patients who had delivered their babies with other physicians in my coverage group in the days ...