A Call in the Middle of the Night
© Copyright 2023 by Fredrick Hudgin
Photo by Kirill Dratsevich at Pexels.
“Should I answer it?” ran through my head, then I shrugged and walked to the phone.
“Fred, your blood type is O-neg? Right?” I recognized the voice of my wife, a nurse, who was working the graveyard shift at the ER of our local hospital.
“Yep. What’s up?”
“We just had a baby born with an Rh incompatibility. It needs a transfusion immediately, and we can’t use refrigerated blood. Even with a blood warmer, the doc says fresh blood, right out of a vein, is best.”
“I’m on my way.” I pulled on my clothes and ran to my car. The hospital was just over a mile away. I’d just finished an EMT course. As I drove there (way too fast), I reviewed what I’d learned about Rh incompatibility in newborns. As I remembered it, when the mother has Rh-negative blood and the fetus growing inside her has inherited Rh-positive from the father, the mother treats the fetus’s Rh-positive red blood cells as a foreign substance and makes antibodies against them that cross over to the baby in the placenta and destroy the fetus’s red blood cells. When the red blood cells break down, the infant can turn blueish because there aren’t enough functioning red blood cells left to carry oxygen around the infant’s circulatory system. The metabolized red blood cells may also turn the child yellowish, like jaundice. An Rh reaction only happens in a second or subsequent Rh pregnancy. A first Rh-baby only gets the mother’s immune system ready to react to the second one.
“Her prenatal care should have shown this,” I muttered. “Why the hell didn’t someone check?”
I slid to a stop in a parking spot next to the entrance to the ER and ran inside. A med-tech was waiting for me.
“We’ve got everything ready. Please come with me.” She handed me a gown, cap, and mask, then walked me to the operating room as I struggled into them. My wife was there, along with the OB doctor and the newborn. The child was under a warming lamp, gasping for breath through its oxygen mask with a blue/gray cast to its skin.
“Sit down, Fred,” the doc said. “Thanks for coming. I need your arm. You’re O-neg, right? That’s what your wife told me.”
“Yep.” I pulled up the sleeve of my gown and shirt and presented it to him. He started swabbing my inner elbow area with an iodine solution. “Why wasn’t this caught in the prenatal exams?”
“She’s from Guatemala. Her husband enlisted six months ago to get US citizenship and just brought her up. She hasn’t had any prenatal care beyond a local midwife. This is their second child, and no one noticed anything about the first one.”
I flinched a little as he stuck the needle into my arm. “How do you transfuse a newborn?” I asked, intrigued.
“Well, a newborn’s body only holds a half-pint of blood. So, we put some in and then take some out. It takes a whole pint to replace most of the damaged red blood cells.”
“So, the baby is O-pos, and I’m O-neg. Is that OK?”
“It sure is. O-negs can donate to anyone. O-pos can only donate to Rh-pos people.”
He hooked my IV line to a syringe attached to a small metal device with a lever on top. A second line went straight into the baby’s umbilical cord. He would slowly draw out a syringe of blood from me, flip the lever and push it into the baby. Then he’d slowly draw out a syringe full of blood from the baby and pump it into a pan. This went on for ten iterations. With each injection of my blood, the color of the baby gradually went from gray/blue to pink as I watched.
After the tenth pump, he checked the child’s vitals and smiled. “Blood oxygen is 98%, her pulse is down, and her color is much better. That should do it. Thanks! You just saved this child’s life.”
Both the child and I were breathing much easier now. I didn’t know how to react to the doctor’s praise; that wasn’t why I donated blood. So, I smiled, then drove back home (a lot more slowly). Since my O-neg blood made me a universal donor (anybody can receive my blood), I donated as often as I could..
Many years later, I still wonder how the child developed and what kind of person she became. Had I saved a future mass murderer or the person who discovers the cure for cancer? Either way, she now had a chance to become the person of her future that she didn’t have before.
I have continued to donate blood, over ten gallons in total now. I began while I was in the army during the Vietnam conflict. The Vietcong Tet offensive of 1968 was in full swing. American casualties were skyrocketing. They weren’t quite as picky about blood quality then as they are now. All you really needed was a pulse and a drop of your blood able to sink into their copper sulfate solution. HIV/AIDS hadn’t come along yet. The blood collectors now screen for many diseases before releasing donated blood into the “available” pool.
you do not donate blood, please think about doing it. There is a huge
shortage that got substantially worse during COVID. You will probably
never know who received your blood and if it worked for them. But
now, the Red Cross sends me an email when my blood is used. When I
get that email, I smile, knowing that somewhere, someone has a chance
to continue their life because I took the time to share my blood with
them when they needed it most.