Budapest, March 1874.
The night outside was pleasant and a mild breeze was blowing, rustling through the trees and making waves in the grass. The hospital was the only building for several hundred meters. All was silent. All was peaceful. But the scene inside was far from the tranquility outside. Inside the maternity ward, a woman was giving birth.
The baby was the seventh for the mother. The delivery was not going smoothly. It seemed that the umbilical cord was wrapped around her newborn’s neck. The doctor and nurse were frantically at work. They rushed around the ailing woman’s bed trying this and doing that, and putting all their efforts into saving the baby.
They could not cut the cord, as they would have to do so very close, dangerously close to the mother’s body, and she might just bleed to death the way things were going that day: the hospital had already seen two preventable deaths occur in the space of six hours. They did not want to witness two more in the space of the seventh. Their fear and hurry thus explained, the baby was not closer to safety than it had ever been.
The baby was finally out, but the cord was still firmly coiled twice around its (his) neck. The doctor was now struggling with the cord, trying to prise it off, but it was hopeless and he soon gave up. The cord seemed to have knotted itself around the neck, and this coupled with the fact that it was slimy and slippery, made it nigh impossible to remove it. The nurse however was trying to take advantage of all the slime on the cord to try and prise the baby from it but excessive force was risky, and she too gave up soon enough. The doctor and nurse, conversed softly for a moment and then returned to the woman’s bedside. They had decided what they would tell her, that the newborn son had been stillborn.
Suddenly, a very surprising thing happened. The gasping baby started to wriggle feebly. Then as though he had gained a little power, he started to struggle against the grip of the cord which had sustained him for 9 months but which now insisted on killing it.
The baby was fighting what looked like a losing battle but admirably, even at only a few moments old, he showed grit and determination in ample quantities. As the doctor and nurse watched in disbelief the baby pushed his pudgy fists against his constraint, and slowly, impossibly, the baby slipped painfully from the cord and finally free, he lay for a moment on the sheets and then, inexplicably, began wailing, lustily.
When he had been cleaned up, his father was called in, and the anxious man walked in slowly. “Your son has got quite a strong set of lungs. You must be proud.” After the father had nodded tentatively, he was taken aside and told the whole story of the child’s miraculous escape. When the stunned father was brought back to his wife, who had just woke up, the doctor asked, “What are you going to name him Mr. Houdini?”
“I’ve thought about ‘Harry’ ” he replied.
“Harry Houdini it is then,” said the doctor jovially. “Harry Houdini it is” echoed the father, smiling feebly for the first time.
Author’s note: Erik Weisz was the real name of the famous escapist Harry Houdini. The story above is based on imagination and is not intended to offend.
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