An Irish woman's social, political and domestic commentary
Friday, July 23, 2004  

A night in the public ward in the NMH

The last part of the birth story had me wheeled off to Ward 7 in Holles St. Altho I have the requisite health insurance, as I was signed up for the Community Midwifery Scheme, I was officially a public patient. So the carpeted seclusion of the Merrion Wing was swiftly bypassed for the public ward. I've only had one hosptilisation as an adult (actually ever) and that was as a private patient so the next twenty four hours proved to be a valuable opportunity to observe the front line of hospital care in our lovely country.

Each ward is designed for 6 patients. 3 against each wall with a long wooden table down the middle. Everyone has their little curtains around them. So far so pretty much as one would expect. One of the community midwives settles me in and hubby and I fill her in on our rather hysterical arrival at the hospital. Having become familiar with my efficient and business like manner of managing my pregnancy, she is amazed and amused at the story and we have a great laugh. Dinner will be served at 5pm (?) and she advises me to request some tea and toast rather than the full meal. Then it's quiet time. Between 4 and 6.30pm absolutely no visitors are permitted and mothers are to get their rest and eat their dinner. This is a good idea because its amazing the number of people who think they're doing new mothers a favour by bouncing into maternity hospitals expecting to see cheerful Moms sitting up in bed, dying for a chat, and looking flushed and happy. Most of us are exhausted, in great discomfort, highly emotional and not able for much at all.

The ward clears of the 4 million delirious relatives and I get a chance to look around. To my left is a woman and at first there's no sign of the baby. Then a doctor/consultant looking man arrives with the baby. The little thing has its legs in plaster cast and steel splints. It was born with clubbed feet and is being treated at the children's hospital across town. The consultant has accompanied the baby back to the mother personally to explain the treatment. What do you feel? Sympathy, horror, gratitude.

Across the room and to the right is a young woman and again there's no sign of a baby. Plenty of pink balloons, flowers, cards and enormous cuddly toys. It transpires it was a miconeum birth too, except the baby inhaled and its upstairs in special care. It'll take 3 or 4 days to clear the lungs and pray there's no long term damage. I feel massively guilty that I resisted the inducement. What if my baby had inhaled the stuff? Still, the other girl's baby wasn't overdue so it appears to be the luck of the draw no matter what way you give birth.

Across and to the left is a woman who looks like she's used to this. She's breast feeding but every now and then winces and cries. She thinks the womb is contracting with the feeding (this can happen) but after a while nurses are sent for. Some kind of specialist nurse arrives, the curtain is drawn and I can hear them talking and her weeping. The mother of the club foot baby is friendly with her and goes over for a chat after they leave. The woman is in tears with the pain but no one knows what to give her as they don't know what's causing it. I have my own suspicions but say nothing. Sure enough later that night after some coming and going I can hear the two friends chatting again and a "you won't believe what it was" and some giggles. Without hearing the rest, I confirm my own theory. Constipation. I've been given dire warnings about this.

Strangely I can remember absolutely nothing about the lady directly opposite me. She says or does nothing. Just feeds the baby and sleeps. However, to my left is a Nigerian woman. Her mobile phone rings constantly and despite the no visitor rules her friend is still there and chatting (loudly) away behind the curtain. The security guard stops by and makes numerous polite requests for the visitor to leave. After twenty minutes there's a full scale row while the rest of us give each other knowing, half-disapproving, half-entertained looks. The visitor is soooo stubborn. Just refuses to leave claiming her friend needs her. There is noooo sympathy since the friend is clearly in great spirits. Perhaps, in Africa, they are used to the relations staying in the hospitals to look after the patients. Anyway, eventually, the visitor leaves, sneaks back in, and is finally ejected.

The tea ladies arrive. I've been snoozing behind the curtain. Baby is asleep in the cradle beside me. When very-much-in-charge senior tea lady whips back my curtain announcing the arrival of fish and chips being served at the table. I assumed it would be trays in the beds but the fellow patients are sorting themselves out. I politely request my tea and toast as instructed. "Well, I can't bring that'll have to wait for later". I assure her, any time at her convenience will suffice as I'm barely out of the delivery suite. She closes the curtain and as the other ladies hobble towards the table where dinner is served she makes a little speech to all and sundry, no one in particular and me. "I don't know. Some people think this is a restaurant and they can order whatever they want. Not like when I was having my babies years ago in the Rotunda. If you didn't get up and go the table, you didn't eat. Simple as that. I don't know where some people think they are now." I can't help laughing in my little cubicle. I had no idea asking for tea and toast was so out of the ordinary. To be totally fair, half and hour later she comes back with a gorgeous pot of tea and toast that's still hot and was buttered the second it came out of the toaster. Perfect. I thank her profusely for her trouble.

The staff midwife is cruising around. She's Indian and has a lovely smile on her face. She checks my chart. Admires the baby and enquires if I've 'made water'. I'm a bit confused but realise she's wants to know if I've peed. Well, no, 'cos the epidural just wore off, my legs are only coming back to life and I haven't stood up yet. "You had epidural at 5am. You must make water or we will insert catheter for 24 hours". No way. Apart from the indignity of a catherer, there is totally no way I am going to spend another 24 hours in this place. I want to be out by 10am the next day. She inspects my abdomen and presses. The bladder is pretty distended. I need a shower anyway as I haven't been cleaned up since the birth so we head off to the bathroom.

I gingerly get out of bed and very slowly make my way out of the ward, across the hall and towards the bathroom door. I'm starting to resent the fact that she hasn't offered her arm to me, when I pause at the big heavy ancient door. (Think Dickensian but clean). I glance at her, assuming she's going to push the door open. She stares back at me. Looks like I'm pushing the bloody thing open myself. It takes a huge effort and we get in. She hands me a plastic jug so whatever I produce can be measured. It's all starting to get a bit surreal. I go into the loo, stand over the jug and wait. Nothing. I turn on the taps. I picture waterfalls. The whole time she's outside; "are you making water?". "Just give me a minute". I'm starting to sweat. This bitch is coming nowhere near me with her tubes.

Eventually I emerge defeated. I suggest a shower might help. Her eyes narrow and she resents my resistance. Still I need the shower. Then I confess that in the transportation panic last night, the towel, listed as a hospital essential was forgotten. She goes off and comes back a minute later with one of the blankets from the baby's cradle. I can't believe it. I can't get a frigging towel???? Does she help me over the step into the shower? There's no soap. How was I supposed to know there'd be no bloody soap. The towel was on the list so that's my fault. But soap? Very bitterly she disappears and returns with some shower gel someone else left behind. The jug is deposited in the shower tray just in case.

I'm getting to grips with washing myself and she's still shouting in at me. "Are you making water?". I'm incredulous and getting pissed off. I dry myself with the blanket, put on my night dress and we head back for the ward. I leave the blanket in a laundry bin but she retrieves it. Clearly its going back in the cradle. I request that one of the community midwives is sent for. If I have to have the bloody thing done, I want one of mine to do it. Of course this gets her back up completely, but I'm past caring now. She's an unhelpful cow and will be going off duty in a few hours.

My lovely midwife arrives and offers me another chance to pee. We head off again except this time, arms are offered, doors are opened, she turns on the taps and we have a giggle. I offer her €50 to pee into the jug for me. We abandon it, return to the ward and she does the evil deed with a minium of discomfort. A rather alarming rush of orange liquid shoots into a bag and quickly fills it. Wow. After all the puking you'd wonder where it all comes from.

She's just finishing up when I hear hubby outside with my parents. I'd asked him to send for them and no one else for the visiting hour. Suddenly I feel like celebrating.

More tomorrow.

posted by Sarah | 13:40 0 comments
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