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Why I don’t mind working nightshift anymore

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A newborn child’s critical illness changes his mother’s perspective on her own medical career

On a cold Monday night in late winter, I pulled on my scrubs, packed my lunch and crept quietly into the small, cosy room my children share. My daughter was lying rumpled and skewiff in her big bed, covers thrown back, her little nappy-clad bottom in the air. I moved to the cot where my son was safe and snuggly in his baby sleeping bag, little hands balled into tight fists by his face, fair head turned to one side, breath soft and rhythmic. Then I kissed my husband, patted our dogs and went to work, staying up all night to treat other people’s families while mine slept. I was back on the grindstone of the emergency department registrar roster, where nightshift is as inevitable as breathing.

Six months earlier, late in the afternoon of his due date, my son Tom entered the world and took his first breath. But when the warm slippery bundle was placed upon my chest, he simply lay, still and blue, his initial mew of surprise followed by silence. The paediatrician went to work, suctioning his trachea before gently inflating his lungs with tiny, quick bursts of the toy-like resuscitator. Oxygenated blood now circulating again, Tom gave a few tentative cries then settled into steady, if slightly fast, respirations. The crisis had passed and we all…