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The Gynaecologist clearly wanted to prolong the labour so she could conduct a C-section at her convenience. Medical malpractice? Maybe. But how can anyone prove it?
Photo by Alexander Grey on Unsplash
Trigger Warning: This deals with gaslighting by health care professional and medical negligence and may be triggering to survivors.
“Do you want to go to the nursing home?” her husband asked.
“No, not yet. We can wait till morning.”
It was midnight. The contractions were long and strong, but spaced out at 15 minute intervals. She had read enough books to know that while her labour had started, she was not ready yet. The next morning, the contractions were still spaced out, but they decided to go to the nursing home to get checked out. After a perfunctory examination, the resident doctor asked her to get admitted.
“How much am I dilated?”, she asked.
“Must I get admitted now? Can’t I go back home and return when the contractions are more frequent?”
“No, get admitted now. Later, there may not be a bed.”
After her husband left for work, and she ceremoniously put her overnight bad on the nightstand, she started pacing the room.
“What do you think you are doing?”, a nurse asked.
“Walking. All the books have said that you should walk to speed up your labour.”
“Walking shalking not allowed. Go back to bed and lie down. Doctor will come soon.”
It didn’t make sense, but she hoisted herself onto the bed and started reading The Thorn Birds.
“So how is my patient doing?” Her Gynaecologist’s cheerful voice cut into the exploits of the Cleary family. She was looking resplendent in a heavy silk saree.
“Shouldn’t you be telling me”, she smiled back.
“You seem to be coming along just well”, said the Gynaecologist reassuringly. “I hope the food is upto the mark.”
“Actually, I haven’t had lunch yet. But I guess it will be okay. When do you think I will deliver?”
“Hard to tell. Don’t worry about it right now. Just relax and let the nurses look after you.”
“Shouldn’t I be walking?”, she asked. “That’s what all the books say.”
“No, just lie down and relax. I may not be able to come in the evening since it is my son’s engagement tomorrow. But the nurses will call me if I am needed.”
“And these contractions. How do I breathe when they come.” She had wanted to take Lamaze Classes, but her Gynaecologist had discouraged her saying she would tell her what to do when the time came.
“Don’t worry about them. They are still quite irregular. Just push down against the contractions when they come and you will be fine.”
After the Gynaecologist left with her retune of trainee doctors, she went back to The Thorn Birds. The family saga was not exactly the right book to be reading while in labour, but it took her mind off the labour. She really wanted to get off the bed and walk- isn’t that what all the books had advised her to do- but she knew she had to trust her Gynaecologist, and did.
The afternoon dragged and then the evening. A male resident doctor came on his rounds in the evening. She tried to ask him how much further on she was, but he pretended she didn’t exist. “If her husband has any questions, tell him I will be in the consultation room for the next half an hour”, he told the nurse. “But Doctor, I have a few questions”, she cried, but he ignored her and walked out of the room.
“What is your problem”, the nurse chided. “First you come here without an attendant. Then you are constantly complaining. Are you the first woman to have had a child?” Given how dependent she was on the staff, she knew better than to argue, so went back to her book.
Her contractions intensified at night. They were coming longer and stronger. She pressed down on them exactly as her Gynaecologist had told her to. The pain was unbearable, but the frequency was still irregular. Relax, she kept telling herself. Keep pressing down. The labour is progressing. It is just a matter of time.
She never thought dawn would break. By the time the resident doctor came on his rounds, she was nearly delirious with pain. She knew she couldn’t handle this much longer. “How much am I dilated?”, she asked after he examined her, certain that she would be at least 6 centimetres. He pretended not to hear her. “Can’t you hear me? I asked you how much I am dilated”, she screamed.
Her world collapsed. “But that is just not possible. I was two centimetres yesterday when I was admitted. How can I still be only two centimetres.”
“Clearly your labour is not progressing. I have to go. You are not the only patient I have.”
“I don’t want this baby. I don’t want anything. I just want to jump out of the window and end this pain.” She knew she was hysterical, but she couldn’t help herself. All that excruciating pain for nothing? Her husband came in just then, and she flung herself on him. “Take me away from here. I can’t be here a minute longer. Just take me away.” He held her till her sobs died down, then gently extracted the story from her. “Don’t worry. I will speak to the Gynaecologist right now”, he promised. “Don’t go. Just stay here a little longer”, she pleaded. He smiled and gently placed himself on the bed.
The curtains parted, and a lady doctor came into the room. “Good morning. I am Dr. Jayanthi. I’ll be on duty for the next 24 hours. How are you feeling? Is everything okay.”
“I was two centimetres dilated when I was admitted yesterday. I am still two centimetres. When will this torture end.” She was pouring her heart out, when a contraction started. She pushed against it as her Gynaecologist had told her to.
“Wait. What are you doing? Why are you fighting the contractions?”, Dr. Jayanthi asked.
“That is what I was told to do”, she replied.
A strange expression crossed Dr. Jayanthi’s face, but she took a deep breath and rearranged her features. “Listen, you are exhausted. Let me give you a mild sedative. Sleep for a couple of hours. When you regain your energy, we can talk.” Dr. Jayanthi’s voice was gruff, but her manner was reassuring. She gave a small smile. “As you say, Doctor.”
Within minutes of her walking up, Dr. Jayanthi came into the room. “Are you feeling refreshed now? You have a lot of work to do.”
She smiled. She was certainly feeling much better physically and mentally after the nap. “Anything you say, Doctor.”
“First of all, don’t fight your contractions. When you feel them coming, breathe with them. Make them a part of you. Got it?” She nodded. “You haven’t eaten anything since morning. I will ask the nurse to get you something to eat. Even if you don’t like it, eat it. You need the strength. After that, I would advise you to walk a bit. Walking will speed up your labour. I will be back in a hour to examine you.”
Inaction never suited her. She liked having something to do. She gobbled down the insipid and soggy breakfast and started walking up and down the room. She pretended to herself that she was on Carter Road promenade and spoke to her baby. “We are in this together. Do your part, and before you know it you will be in my arms. Just a bit longer.”
Dr. Jayanthi came in as promised, and examined her. “You are 6.5 centimetres dilated. The baby will come any moment now. Maybe you should ask your husband to come.”
The contractions intensified. They were now less than five minutes apart. She kept pacing up and down the room, ignoring the stares from the other expectant mothers. They started coming at 2 minute intervals. One contraction barely stopped before the next one began. She asked the nurse on duty to inform Dr. Jayanthi, who took charge immediately. A nurse administered an enema, then broke her water. Another expertly inserted a cannula. “Why this?”, she asked. “Just in case you need to be taken in for emergency surgery”, the nurse replied. She was determined not to let that happen. After enduring all the agonising pain, she wanted a normal delivery. She was wheeled into the labour room, and helped onto the delivery table. It was finally happening!
“We have called your Gynaecologist. She is on the way. Do you want to push, or do you want to wait till she arrives?” Dr. Jayanti was in scrubs, but she recognised the voice.
“What do you think, Doctor. Am I ready to push?”
“Yes, you are ready.”
“If you tell me I am ready, I am ready. Let’s do it.”
Dr. Jayanti guided her on what to grip and how to push. “No, don’t grip so hard with your left hand. The cannula might injure you.” “Then why did you put that goddamn cannula”, she muttered under her breath. But she loosened her grip and waited for the next contraction. She pushed with all her might. The baby crowned, but didn’t come out. “You almost did it. Just push a little harder, and we will be done.” The next contraction was starting. She was vaguely aware of the Gynaecologist coming into the room, donning a robe, and taking her place. The next contraction was beginning. “Come on Baby, push with Mamma. We can do it.” The Baby popped out, right into the Gynaecologist’s hands. “Congratulations, it’s a boy”. She smiled. Her labour was over. She was a mother!
Later, she came to know of all the things that could have gone wrong because the labour was not allowed to proceed the way it should have. The Gynaecologist clearly wanted to prolong the labour so she could conduct a C-section at her convenience. Medical malpractice? Maybe. But how can anyone prove it? Best conserve that energy for child-rearing.
Author’s Note: This is a personal account, but it has been a very long time, so I have blurred the identity of the Gynaecologist and presented it as fiction.
Editor’s note: Women regularly face #MedicalMisogyny from health care professionals. For the WHO World Health Day 2023 theme of ‘Health for All’, identifying this misogyny and ensuring #Equity in healthcare is essential. All of April, we will be sharing stories with you on this these, either personal stories or fiction. Find them all here.
Natasha works in the development sector, where most of her experience has been in Education and Livelihoods. She is passionate about working towards gender equity, sustainability and positive climate action. And avid reader and occasional read more...
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