Half A Delivery

I wouldn’t say we’re competitive, me and ChinaDoc.  If you don’t recall, she was the other FP resident on our trip to Haiti.  Although I’ve mentioned her actual name before, in true blogging fashion I will heretofore call her by a nickname.  Being Chinese, and very small and elegant, I’ve settled on ChinaDoc.

True, she plays Hearts to the death.  And we’re constantly harassing each other about who has more deliveries.  But that’s not real competition…is it?  Just friendly banter.  Or so I thought…

Just as we’re closing up shop on the 4th night of our adventure in Haiti, a woman arrived in labor, but dilated to only 3cm.  Since she needed to get to 10 to be “complete”, we knew she had some work to do.  We thus set up a makeshift labor room out of the flight-line of the bats that inhabited our clinic at night.

Our stellar OB nurse – with something like 30 years experience on a labor ward; one of the best I’ve ever worked with – stayed with the patient to watch her, while the rest of the team walked across the courtyard for dinner.  ChinaDoc and I each had one delivery since arriving in Haiti.  It was thus my turn for this one.

Stretching nonchalantly as we headed up the stairs, I just mentioned to my illustrious colleague, “Hmmm.  Looks like this will be TWO for me.  How many do you have again?  Sorry, I forgot.  Something like…uhhh, ONE, isn’t it?  Don’t feel lame, dear ChinaDoc.  Some doctors are just, you know, more successful than others.”

I can’t recall what mean, snide thing she said then – MUCH to my surprise since I was just trying to make personable conversation (and gently help her feel better for losing the delivery race).  It was something along the lines of, “At least I’ll sleep, loser.”

She made a good point, actually.  I was probably in for a long night.

Since I was “on”, I found a perch along the edge of the balcony where we ate our meals.  From that vantage point, I could see through the door of our OB room and observe things as they unfolded.

About an hour later, my nurse stuck her head of the room and yelled up to me, “She’s 7.  Won’t be long!”

Good, I thought.  7cm.  Our patient had delivered numerous other children, which we medical folk term “multiparous” (multip, for short).  Multips don’t usually hang around at 7cm for very long.

To my surprise, a short time later I saw our patient wander away from her hastily constructed labor room.  Accompanying her were the two friendy/family types who arrived with her.  No nurse.

Here’s the thing about walking while in labor:  It almost always helps things progress.  We encourage it most of the time.  How it works is something of a mystery, but it has to do with gravity, and mental distraction and pain control.  However, I can NOT envision a time when an experienced labor nurse would encourage – nay, allow – a multiparous mom at 7 cm to walk around.

Welcome To Your Delivery Suite, Ma'am
Welcome To Your Delivery Suite, Ma'am

Babies have been known to drop right out of multiparous women.  Into toilets, showers, cab seats, soccer fields, gondolas, dog bowls, ferris wheel benches, classrooms, ski slopes, two-seater airplanes, office cubicles, hot air balloons, the space shuttle, those suction chutes at banks that kids love…

…OK, so I made some of those up, but you get the point.

But for some reason, this woman wandered away from our clinic room – ambling slowly with one hand in the small of her back – into the front courtyard of the building we use daily for the clinic.  From my roost on the ledge, I watched our patient virtually evaporate into the pitch-dense maw of the rural Haitian night.

To describe just how dark it was in the front courtyard, I’ll refer you to the ’80’s classic movie “This Is Spinal Tap”, where at one point the question was, “How much more black could it be?”  And the self-evident answer: “None.  It’s none more black.” (stated by a band-member describing the cover of their new “black” album).

Thomaseau has no street lights.  Or, maybe a few odd ones here and there, but realistically there aren’t any.  Furthermore, the power for this village comes from Port Au Prince, which shunts electrons out there based on some whimsical benevolent prescription that befuddles even the least logical among us.  On this night, there was no power.  So the courtyard was…black.

None more black.

Nervous by this point, I figured my OB nurse had been taken captive and thrown to the yapping Haitian dogs.  She would never walk a multip at 7cm.

Just then, the two women who walked out with our patient came running back into the halo of generator-powered light from our clinic, frantically yelling in Creole.  I knew exactly what they were saying, “YOU LET OUR MULTIPAROUS SISTER WALK AT 7cm AND NOW WE’RE HAVING A BABY IN THE PITCH-DARK!  WHAT KIND OF TWISTED FREAK-SHOW OF AN EXCUSE FOR OB DO THEY TEACH YOU IDIOTS IN AMERICA?”

Already I was bolting down the stairs and running for the courtyard.  I was armed with only 1 tool, perhaps the most valuable physical item a doctor can have in Haiti:  A headlamp.

I rounded the corner, flipping on the light and arriving at a scene that would make the prop crew of CSI envious.  The mother was sitting on the top step of our clinic porch, with a wide pool of blood mixed with clear fluid and thick meconium shimmering from between her legs.  Lying right in the middle of this stark lake of glistening life was a motionless baby, still connected to the umbilical cord, which still curled it’s way into the mother’s body.  The picture of that initial visual moment still glistens realistically in my mind’s eye – the image etched and harsh under the chill glow of my headlamp.

My first concern was the baby.  Motionless, caked in blood meconium and mud from the dirty courtyard, I worried about hypothermia (a real risk for a wet newborn even at Haitian temperatures), and I knew that tactile stimulation would be the best way to try to get “it” (I never even noticed the gender) breathing.

Since I had nothing but the headlamp and clothes on my back, I pulled my shirt off and wrapped up the baby in it.  “It’s dark, I reasoned, nobody will see my rotund beer-gut anyway”.  In the process, I scooped a good amount of the birth-goo onto my bare hands.  I’ve done nearly 100 deliveries, and never touched a newborn with my bare hands.

For the record: it feels exactly like it does in gloves, so there’s no sense in trying it at home, boys and girls.

Dropped Out of my Mom Onto Concrete.  All Good.
Dropped Out of my Mom Onto Concrete. All Good.

Eventually, we got the baby and mom back into their rightful places.  Turns out our OB nurse had been unable to talk the patient out of a walk, and so asked her to wait while she ran up to her room to get her shoes.  The patient didn’t wait, and off she went before our nurse could return to walk with her.  So, no fault of ours, ma’am.

The baby did great.  No head wound from a drop onto concrete.  Breathing fine.  The mom had no vaginal lacerations, and did great too.  We sent them home that night.

ChinaDoc arrived as we were settling the mother back into her cot with the baby, now wrapped in a blanket.  She seemed completely uninterested in the fact that I was shirtless and covered in blood.

“So, I heard the baby was on the ground when you got there.”

“Uh, yeah.  Blood and stuff everywhere.  All I had was my headlamp.  I’m incredibly awesome.”

“So, you didn’t actually deliver the baby, then.”

My eyes grew wide.  “WHAT?”

“Yeah.  It doesn’t count.  All you did was pick it up.  We’ve both delivered one baby in Haiti.  We’re still tied.”

“Here I am, shirtless, covered in blood – look, LOOK AT THAT POOPY, MUDDY, SOAKING FORMER-SHIRT I JUST THREW AWAY – I don’t get credit for a delivery?  I could have AIDS!  I could have an alphabet of hepatitis!  I didn’t even use gloves for God sake, woman!”

ChineDoc sniffed, unmoved.  “You wrapped up a wet baby.  Brilliant work.  But anyone could have done it.  Don’t need a doctor for that.”

Quickly I determined the best way to bend my itinerant classmate to my will was to smear my contaminated hands all over her face.  She backed away quickly at my advance, “OK!” She relented, “Maybe you can have a half a delivery.  Nice job…I guess or whatever.”

Partially gratified, I made my way to the showers to clean off the painting of real, human blood from my body.  Turns out Port Au Prince didn’t deign to allow running water that night, either, along with electricity.

Faced with laying around for the next 8 hours in that blood, purified only with a Wet Ones shower, I realized the bald injustice of my colleague’s proclamation.  “Forget it, ChinaDoc!”  I yelled to the parched shower.  “That’s one WHOLE delivery!”

5 thoughts on “Half A Delivery

  1. Jan

    Wow, Dr. Secretwave101. Your voice speaks in a very powerful way in each of your blog entries. In the midst of your gentle humor, you reveal a sobering reality that the Haitian people endure on a daily basis. At times, we can only offer a loving care and presence–that’s all. But, we are there to walk a difficult, yet sacred journey with a grateful people.

    I know that each time I travel with Friends of Haiti, I experience a deep sense of gratitude for having an opportunity to work side-by-side with others who are willing to risk their own safety to serve the Haitian people. Know that I value the gifts that you and the others from Olympia bring to our mission team.

    Although my focus while in Haiti is striving to improve the quality of education for the Haitian children, I choose to travel with the larger medical team so that I can witness firsthand the work of your healing hands.

    My life continues to change each time I travel to Haiti. Our shared experiences with the Haitian people help to shape me as a teacher, as an administrator, and as a person.

    There is a nation so very close to ours where people live in poverty, in despair, with fear—yet with the hope for a better tomorrow. Our hope is that, together, we can help bring about that better tomorrow.

    Please tell Devin that his photos are remarkable. I love looking at Haiti through his eyes.

    Until we journey again . . . Jan


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