The Head Chief Nurse

You must picture an older Korean woman who is a bit out of the norm. For sure, her height is right, since everyone from that generation is at least a head under everyone else. However her black hair is rather conservatively cut to fall just below her jaw, as many of her fellow ajummas (or Korean women who have lost the blush of youth) are so busy winding up their curls as tensely and tightly as a catapult’s twisted torsion ropes that they’ll soon tear up every last follicle by the root and leave themselves as bald as their husbands.

Therefore this woman’s hair is different. She has not succumbed to the intensity of the culture-wide urge to curl like there’s no tomorrow. There is also a certain strength about her that is irresistible, and though she is not so noticeably muscled you can still see her charging a linebacker on a football field or a rhinoceros on the savannah. Older Korean women are certainly notorious for their (sometimes misdirected) strength, but it is a strength that knows its place in a man’s world, accepting that it has no right to be anything other than what the men in this gerontocratic patriarchy allow it to be. It may yell at husbands, and box the ears of grown children, and protest American beef after it’s been whipped up into a state of xenophobic frenzy, but press for financial independence, equal wages in the workplace or equal representation in the government or military—but carry itself like a liberated woman rather than a tough old redoubt under perpetual siege, like something young and beautiful rather than something that has accepted its fate as an unsexed housewife—forget it. In most cases.

In most cases except this one. Because this woman before you, this head nurse or chief nurse (there is some difference between them too subtle for me and I don’t remember which one she was), has just spent the last four hours of the afternoon thrusting her crotch in your wife’s face while pumping your wife’s very pregnant belly so hard it’s like she’s giving CPR to a drowned knight who is still wearing his steel cuirass.

“Him!” she shouts (strength, power, energy!), then counts to three in Korean, then, “Him!”, and pumps, and shoves, gasping, throwing herself up and down, hurtling every pound of her weight into the baby’s legs, still stuck inside the aching womb. Then she’s on the other side, diving inside your wife’s vagina (at this point like a slab of steak soaked in steak sauce), maneuvering her hands, eventually shouting (thank god) “deytda! deytda!” (got it! got it!), and sighing and heading out for twenty minutes of breaktime for all three of the people involved. She’ll return and continue and go out again and come back for the whole of the afternoon, eventually drawing two younger nurses into the fray, as well as a doctor, plenty of scissors and forceps and black threads for suturing, as well as a steel tub to catch the varicolored variodored fluids that are spraying all over the place like in a Monty Python skit.

I think you could cut diamonds on this woman’s balls because I don’t know of too many men who are capable of doing this, probably several times a day, for years and years on end, taking the prime role (the doctor’s being almost ceremonial) in the delivery of a new life, the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen and surely the most spectacular show on Earth. I walked in the company of the angels at Angkor Wat and Vatican City, I’ve seen naked children playing on the banks of the Mekong River, I’ve touched the statues on top of Mt. Nemrut and stood feet away from street fights at the heart of Istanbul, looked on at the Potemkin Villages on the North Korean side of the DMZ with my own eyes, sat in the same theater as Al Pacino and the enormous chest of his girlfriend—I’ve seen some interesting stuff—none of it comes close to the birth of a human baby.

And after she’s succeeded she mops her brow, doused in just a few drops of sweat, smiles and nods when you and your wife thank her, and moves on to fill out the paperwork behind a desk out in the hall as if she has not just saved, I mean seriously saved, two lives that might have easily been lost.

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One thought on “The Head Chief Nurse

  1. Tatiana Luna says:

    Amazing. So interesting to me hearing this story from the man’s perspective. I still have some trouble imagining what it was like to be Christopher at Isabelle’s birth, or any person watching any birth for that matter. It seems strange I’ve never experienced that, while I’ve only experienced my own labor, which seemed quite natural at the time, and which immersed me in an ocean of obliviousness. I love your descriptions–Brava Korean Chief Nurse!

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