My first patient ever stares at me blankly when I say the doctor will see her soon. Her two small children treat the waiting room chairs like monkey bars; they’ve been sitting around for hours. Dee (some names have been changed throughout) is here to get laminaria inserted, the small seaweed sticks positioned in the cervix that expand upon contact with moisture, producing enough dilation to enable a second trimester abortion, which will happen tomorrow. I know I’m not succeeding at giving her the warm, confident assurance I’ve practiced in the mirror.
I stand by her head as she spreads her legs. She begins to moan, softly and then without control. “You’re doing great,” I tell her, clenching my jaw, smiling still. Through her moans I hear one doctor tell the other that there’s too much blood. They call for a hospital transport and tell her they’re going to do the abortion today, right now. Then we’re running across the hospital floor as the doctors yell for people to move out of the way. It’s my first day, but I know enough to know that this is serious. I keep my hand on Dee’s, murmuring words of support. Once she’s under anesthesia, I get out of the way, stand in the back, hope that I can handle this.