Born In a Panic





By Richard R. Walkup






The morning of Thursday, February 3rd, 1966, began with the anticipation of the birth of our third child.  It was one month prior to his or her due date, but our family doctor, Robert Murray, assured us that the delivery would probably be on time, and routine.  Unfortunately, Dr. Murray’s judgment and opinions were frequently colored by arrogance and preconceived notions, and he resented being questioned about anything. He made it clear that he was the doctor and he knew what was best for us.  During this pregnancy, Dr. Murray and I had a number of fiery telephone conversations in which I expressed concerns about the lessening duration of labor for daughter, Cyndi, than for our first daughter, Susan, and worried that the time might be even shorter for this delivery.  He was reluctant to even discuss it.

Dr. Murray told my wife, Marilynn that when her labor with this baby begins, she would have at least several hours before delivery.  But I’m getting ahead of myself now, this story actually started the previous night. 

Wednesday evening, February 2nd, Marilynn appeared to be suffering from a flu virus, her temperature was one hundred and two; she had a sore throat, runny nose, chills and lower abdominal cramps.  I had to attend an Omaha Sky Divers Parachute Club meeting that night, and was apprehensive about leaving her alone.  After I returned home, her cramps and other flu symptoms continued throughout the night, allowing her very little sleep.  Later that night I called the doctor on call for our physician and told him about Marilynn’s symptoms.  He thought she had the flu.  Since this was also Marilynn’s conclusion, we left it at that.

I sat up that night and read some material that we had obtained about what to do if a baby’s delivery came early with no physician present.  It was fortunate that I did.

The next morning Marilynn’s symptoms seemed no more improved than the previous night, and there was no way to distinguish between flu cramps and labor pains.  I stayed home from work, intending to take her to the doctor’s office before noon.

At about 8:45, I was in the bathroom, four-year-old Susan was standing in the hall, naked, trying to dress herself, and Cyndi, who was two, stood next to our bed pulling down her dirty pants.  It was at that precise moment that Marilynn announced, “Richard, my water just broke.” 

What else can possibly happen?  I had to gather my thoughts, figure out what to do, get my priorities straight.

After calling a neighbor to baby sit the two girls and phoning Dr. Murray’s wife to let her know Marilynn’s condition, we climbed into our 1959 Studebaker Lark and began our long trip to Immanuel Hospital.

At that time, we lived at 4475 South 60th Avenue in Omaha, Nebraska, just south of I-80, and the hospital was near Thirtieth and Ames Avenue, approximately one hundred twenty blocks north, but we were confident we had enough time; after all, Dr. Murray assured us we would.

Our route was through downtown Omaha in rush hour traffic.  I ran perhaps ten red lights, hitting speeds of sixty-five to seventy miles an hour, with horn blaring, hoping to be stopped by a cop.  No way!  Where the heck were they when you really needed one?

I was in a panic as I drove.  Marilynn kept saying, “The baby’s coming.” And I kept responding, “Just hang on, it won’t be long.”  I was convinced we would make it.

I was wrong.  When my young wife suddenly lay down on the seat on her side I knew it was too late.

We were racing north on Thirtieth Street looking for a place to stop, when up ahead at the corner of thirtieth and Spencer, I saw a filling station.  I slowed down and pulled in.  Duncan Sinclair Service would be the baby’s birth place.

I was in a complete panic now.  It was seventeen degrees outside, the front seat was soaked with whatever accompanies a birth, and the little one was already coming out.  Like an idiot I told Marilynn, “Wait a minute.” Then I jumped out the car and ran into the station.  Two black men stood inside staring at me oddly.  I told one of them, “My wife is having a baby out in the car, and I need some help.” 

He, the owner I think, remained quiet at first, and then slowly said, “Well I guess…we better call the Rescue Squad.”  As he spoke he pointed to a pay phone.  I didn’t have a dime to make the call; the second gentleman reached into his pocket, fished out a coin and handed it to me.  I quickly made the call, thanked him, and asked the owner if he had any rags.  He handed me a dirty grease rag, and I made tracks for the car, knowing that it would be a cold day in Hell before that cloth ever touched any part of my wife.

By the time I opened the door, the baby was nearly out.  With my fingers numb and shaking, I did the best I could.  Remembering the information pamphlet I’d read the night before, I helped him the rest of the way into this world, and at that point it was clear that it was a he. 

It was also a breach birth, but he survived it okay. 

I cleaned his mouth and nose with my fingers, picked him up by his ankles to swat his behind, just like I had always seen in the movies, and…Oh my god!  Both legs began to bend.  I quickly laid him back down on the seat and began to bend his limbs.  Fortunately the bones were soft and pliable and I was able to straighten them.  

I lifted him upside-down again, being careful not to break his legs this time, gave him a gentle swat in the bottom, and on queue, he immediately cried out, taking his first breath.  I deliberately ignored the umbilical cord as specified in the pamphlet.  We wrapped our new son in a towel we’d found in the back seat, and looked him over.  He was definitely a boy, and his name, we’d decided, would be Richard, but we’d call him Rick or Ricky.  Each time he stopped crying as we waited for the EMTs, I took no chances, I swatted him gently on his backside to make sure he was still breathing.

With siren screaming and lights flashing, the Rescue Squad pulled into the filling station.  When two EMTs rushed up to the car at 9:20 AM to complete the birthing, my job was finished.  Thank goodness!

When I realized it was out of my hands, I was suddenly moved to tears.

A short time later in the hospital corridor, I met Dr. Murray.  I asked him if our fee would be prorated since I had delivered the baby.  I couldn’t help myself.

He stammered and ranted as he tried to explain that his fee was based on the long term care, not just the delivery.

But I’ll bet if two doctors were involved they would divide the fee.

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