When our newest roommate was wheeled in, myself and the other post-op women in my hospital ward were ready to shower her with support, as we had done for each other when we were wheeled in from our respective C-sections.
“How are you feeling?” was the number one question we would throw at all the new arrivals, as a ‘welcome to the club, we feel your pain’ assurance.
We added things like, ‘the pain will go away soon…’ and ‘… the morphine works wonders’…
Usually, the support is met with forced smiles and laughter, as comradery filled the clinical atmosphere -but this time, the woman being wheeled in was noticeably unresponsive.
After a few seconds, our latest addition sighed, and grunted a shaky, “no. I am not okay…” which escalated to a painful whale, “my baby died”.
We tried not to allow the awkward silence to govern the room.
“I am so sorry”, we all said, not in unison, but in a wave of lowered voices.
I asked her if there was anyone I could call for her.
“No. No one will come”.
Ten minutes passed and the woman’s small whales of pain became a lingering cry.
“Suster, ek het noggie my painkillers gekry nie”.
The nurse hovered by her patient folder, ignoring the woman who had just spent hours in labour, giving birth to a dead baby.
She would later reveal to the group that she had gone into labour at 32 weeks gestation. While giving birth, her baby had failure to thrive, and died.
During this ordeal, she was unable to pass the placenta naturally, and the doctors opted to perform a C-section to remove it.
She was sent back to our ward; a room filled with moms and crying newborns, to recover.
The nurse looked up from the folder after several more agonizing minutes had ticked by.
“Ja ek se mos doctor gan nou kom”.
“Op hou skree. Doctor must still prescribe something”.
At the 45 minute mark, the woman stood up, dragged her drip from its holster and scraped her freshly cut body along the bed.
I remember her blank face as she looked behind her, then forward and said, “Haai. Kyk al die bloed”.
She waddled out of the room.
When she returned, she was given her first shot of morphine, an hour after the feeling in her body had come back in full force, and put her in what can only be described as post-operative hell.
I sat and watched the entire thing, hugging my baby… completely unaware of the events that would follow.
To be clear, my experience at Grooteschuur hospital was both satisfactory, and terrifying.
Seeing the way the lower classes are treated, by people who have taken an oath to ‘do no harm ’is eye-opening, but my opinion is irrelevant, and will most likely get lost in a sea of ‘public hospital horror story’ experiences that will never go viral.
Still, I will tell my story, as I have become known to do, and leave it up to the reader to evaluate how, what was supposed to be a beautiful memory of the birth of my daughter, would turn into a traumatic experience that would have me running from a completely different government facility only three days later.
First, for context, let me tell you what it feels like to undergo a C-section.
A C–section, or cesarean section, is the delivery of a baby through a surgical incision in the mother’s abdomen and uterus.
Seen as ‘the easy way out’ by many natural birth veterans, a C-section is when you don’t physically participate in the labour/delivery of your child. This is usually confused with being an effortless birth.
A group of doctors meet you in the surgical ward. You are naked, and sitting upright on a table, while an anesthetist asks you a series of questions, in order to estimate the proper dosage that will be injected into your spinal column, while you are wide awake.
I repeat. This entire procedure happens while you are completely conscious, unless there is a medical reason to do it otherwise.
The injection will temporarily block your pain receptors, resulting in temporary paralysis of your lower extremities.
You now cannot feel or move anything from your waist to your toes. Already, this is the making of a slasher movie. Your heart will race when you realise that this paralysis is a reality for some women, who never regain the feeling in their legs.
Yes, this is an actual risk.
Once numb, the surgical team allow your birthing partner into the room. Your lower half is shielded by curtaining, and they immediately start cutting through your layers of skin and abdomen, while they discuss the soccer, or rugby, or anything unrelated to medicine.
Even though you don’t feel any pain, you do feel them working on your insides. At the ten minute mark, things get wild.
The team, now solely focused on dislodging a very reluctant baby tears at you, and shakes you from side to side, while an intern presses down just below your chest. For a minute, you can’t breathe.
And just when you think you’re about to die, you hear your baby scream.
And it’s all worth it … Until the anesthetic pulls out.
So, as this was my third c-section, I opted for a tubal ligation to be done at the end of my surgery.
Tubal ligation or tubectomy is a surgical procedure for sterilization in which a woman’s fallopian tubes are clamped and blocked and sealed, either of which prevents eggs from reaching the uterus for implantation.
Clamped and blocked and sealed.
They snipped my eiers.
After my operation, my husband and I were sent to the recovery area, which is essentially a foyer, in which you lay tits out, while a stranger squeezes your nipples and shoves it into your baby’s mouth.
As I hadn’t gotten my land legs back yet, I was giddy from the drugs, and happy that I wasn’t in any pain.
Also, I was no longer pregnant, and that elation had me safely in a bubble.
Then, the glass started to shatter.
A half an hour after my surgery, a porter came to find me, and take me to the ward,
However, when I arrived at J ward, the nurse shouted at the porter “No no, who said you must bring her here? There is no space for her”.
My C-section was scheduled for Monday 7 May. Protocol states that patients are to be booked in the day before, and I was instructed to be at the hospital on Sunday morning at 8am.
I arrived on time, and was told by the reception to go to F Floor, to be booked in,
When I arrived at F floor, no one was expecting me.
My 9month pregnant body was then ordered to go to the other maternity ward, where they too had no idea that I was to be booked in.
I was however told to sit down.
At 11.30, after several phone calls and a slight interrogation, I was told that they had a bed for me after all.
The porter tried to explain that the nurses on J floor had told him to move me to the new ward, but alas, the sister felt the need to say in my presence that I was not wanted. Forlorn, said porter returned me to my initial post, to the dismay of the J floor staff.
I laid there, with my husband and baby at my side, still elated, still in a daze.
Soon, my legs slowly regained feeling… and the wound in my abdomen tingled.
The tingle escalated quickly to a dull ache… to a constant, sharp ache… to excruciating pain.
“Sister, I need a painkiller please”.
“Yes just wait. We gonna give you morphine then you gonna sleep”.
“If I sleep does the baby go to the nursery?”, I naively enquired.
“Nee mammie, dis jou kind die”.
The logic that drugging me into a stupor, then leaving me to care for an infant might not be ideal glided right over her head.
“Can my husband stay and watch her then?”…
She laughed at me.
I was apparently unaware of how ridiculous I sounded.
Without warning, she injected my arm with morphine.
“Daddy, it’s time to leave now. Come back visiting hours”.
As the afternoon progressed, so did my pain. I laid there for two hours before a porter came and whisked me away to H ward, to lay with other post op mommies.
I fought the sleep, trying to stay awake for my baby.
Six hours passed before I received my next dose of pain killers. I laid in agony, in tears, while nurses repeated that my medicine was ‘on its way’.
Still, this wasn’t the traumatic part of my ordeal.
Tuesday morning, the professor walked into the room. He didn’t greet any of the women, and merely said to his colleague; “These three need to be transferred. We need the beds”. He asked where we all lived, suggested we be taken to our respective local government facilities, and he left… never to be seen again.
Tuesday however came and went, and the transfer vehicles never arrived, so we stayed in our beds.
Then, Wednesday morning, we were told the same thing.
“Ladies”, the head nurse called. “You will all be transferred today. We need the beds for other patients”.
We all packed our bags, and awaited the ambulance van’s imminent arrival.
At this point, I had had no visitors, as my family were waiting for me to be transferred.
At 2.45pm we were asked to leave our beds, and take our newborns to the waiting room. Our beds were given to new patients, while we sat in dining room chairs as the cold crept in through the facilities broken windows, two days post op.
We were given no medication. We were given no medical attention.
We were however told that the ambulance was on its way.
The hours chimed by.
I removed my gown, and covered my newborn daughter.
The cold tugged at my incision.
At 8pm there was no sign of an ambulance. Post C-section, I had now been sitting up-straight in the cold for five hours.
At 8:45pm I went to the nurses’ station.
“The ambulance is tending to emergencies first. Please be patient”.
At 9.45pm, the other woman was transported to Somerset Hospital. My daughter and I remained in the waiting room. She woke up to nurse, and I opened my breast to feed her, with tears in my eyes. The pain had progressed to the point where I could no longer stand or sit upright.
And of course, as she suckled, my womb contracted.
I was sincerely convinced that I was going to die.
Now, at this point I find it necessary to say that as a psych patient, I had started to lose my grip on the reality of the situation. I sat mostly in silence, obsessively counting the minutes, while picturing the several outcomes of the situation.
I pictured my daughter dying from the cold. I pictured myself losing it because of the hours of torture I had to endure, and somehow taking my frustration out on her, and I feared for myself and for her at the many ways this was affecting my mental health.
I was already a high risk case.
And not once did anyone come and check if I was okay.
I felt myself start to let go.
By 11pm I asked to be discharged.
I was told by nurses and one of the intern doctors (the only doctor that had responded to my request to see a physician) that if I left the hospital, they would not be liable if anything happened to me or my baby.
So I sat there, and waited.
But by 12 I was in tatters.
At this point my family mobilized.
Several phone calls later, the hospital manager appeared and apologized to me. I heard him address the staff.
“Guys, this is not on. We are going to have the department of health on our case if this gets out”.
He then came to me, I was now sitting in the passage. I couldn’t go anywhere without my daughter, so she was right there with me. At this point I hadn’t even been to pee. The pressure built up in my bladder, also putting stress on my freshly cut womb.
“You were never supposed to be removed from your bed. Please allow us to apologise. I called the ambulance and told them that you are priority number 1”.
By 2am I was still there.
My cousin came to the hospital to wait with me, but when she saw me, she asked that a doctor evaluate me and discharge me immediately.
It must have been the look in my eyes.
A doctor arrived at 2.30am.
He took my pulse and said you’re fine, you can go home.
At 3.30am on Thursday morning I walked into my house. I fell asleep without washing the day off from my skin.
I dreamt of sitting in the passage and waiting.
When I went to my check up at Mitchell’s Plain MOU on Friday, I had an anxiety attack and walked right back out.
I am terrified to go back to a government facility.
You see, I know this doesn’t seem like a scary ordeal. Most horror stories contain abuse, and death. But the way I was dehumanized, and ripped of my basic human rights has dented my soul.
I feel as though a very important time in my life was taken from me, and instead of a beautiful memory of the birth of my child, I now have the trauma of having to protect my daughter from the cold, while we were neglected, without medical care after serious abdominal surgery.
The surgical team that assisted me was great, but for some reason the care staff at government hospitals do not place the treatment of people in a high regard.
People who seek medical assistance at government hospitals are sick, and often do not have the money for private care. This in itself makes them vulnerable and we all know that in the world we live in, we value ourselves on what we can and cannot afford.
Why take the oath to heal, if you only intend on being a healer to people who aren’t poor, or downtrodden?
Why be a nurse if you do not want to treat people with respect? Nursing is a profession based on servitude and care.
Besides the events mentioned, in my time as an outpatient at GSH leading up to my admission, I noticed how certain patients who seemed poorer than others were treated as if they were a bother.
The women in the antenatal clinic were even scared to ask the nurses questions, in fear of being shouted at or ridiculed.
Many times, nurses would ignore you, and even doctors would walk pass you without even saying “Good morning”.
Are these the hospitals the government hoped to give us?
How do we fix this?
Is there anyone we can call?
I bet no one will come.
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