I’ve never disliked Irishmen. In fact, being a born Newfoundlander, the lilting accent and ruddy-faced smiles of Dublin make me feel more at home than I usually do on the North American mainland. There is one Irishman, however, towards whom I’ve recently developed a decided antipathy. His name is Murphy. You know, the one whose Law reads as follows: “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.”
A well-known corollary to this law relates especially to those in the health professions. Specifically, nurses, doctors, spouses and their families invariably will develop rare and/or unexpected complications with even seemingly straightforward ailments and medical procedures.
For example, when my stepson Gavin developed right lower abdominal pain and tenderness with loss of appetite and vomiting a number of years ago the diagnosis was, of course … appendicitis? Nah. It was the twisting of two tangerine-sized cysts in his gut causing bowel obstruction. The surgeon had only seen one other case like it in 30 years, and he works at a university pediatric hospital. Fortunately Gavin has mostly been getting along well since these unusual “tangerines” were harvested.
Tempting Mr. Murphy further, my wife Krista and I decided to add a new member to the family. After an initial miscarriage she became pregnant once again, and was now due in late June (i.e. around Fathers’ Day). Her previous two deliveries had been easy, especially the last one in which labour lasted two hours with no pain relief needed. I figured my biggest concern was going to be getting to the hospital on time.
Everything went well prenatally and on the morning of June 20 (ominously, the day my mother-in-law was going for a “dye test” on her heart) contractions began. By 6:00 am Krista was starting to have regular contractions so I hustled her into the van (emergency obstetrics kit tucked under the seat “just in case”) and headed off to The Grace Maternity Hospital.
The contractions were now about five minutes apart and picking up quickly. At 8:00 am Krista was progressing very nicely, five centimeters with bulging membranes. Our obstetrician, Ralph Loebenberg, ruptured the membranes, releasing a large gush of clear fluid. We awaited the usual outcome of this procedure (i.e. the quick progression to fully dilated and arrival of our offspring).
“She’ll likely be here before coffee break — lunch at the very least,” I said to Shauna, our case room nurse.
The gods are unforgiving of statements such as these, especially when made by medical personnel about their own family members. It is sort of like violating an unwritten tenet of the Emergency Room when things are not busy by saying, “It sure is a quiet night.” This has been known to cause immediate seven car pile-ups on nearby freeways.
Shortly after uttering these words, progress, as measured by dilatation of the cervix, ground to a screeching halt. Krista’s contractions, however, became stronger and more painful. We wondered if the baby was improperly positioned, or did she take after her dad, who weighed 10lbs. 6oz. at birth with a BIG head?
Ralph ordered an epidural, which provided much-needed pain relief, but progress remained snail-like. The fetal monitor showed some ominous looking dips in heart rate, so a sample of blood was taken from the baby’s scalp to check pH levels. These were good, over 7.3, indicating adequate oxygen for the baby, so we continued on, eventually reaching full dilatation. Now began the pushing, something Krista barely had to do with her last labour. It was not so easy this time.
Progress was slow and the heart rate was dipping ominously. Out came the Kiwi Vacuum Extractor (yes, it sounds like something K-Tel would market). Ralph attached the suction cup to the crown of the head and in short order our baby was whisked out. She was pale and floppy, much to my wife’s dismay. I’d seen enough babies resuscitated to know that this was usually quickly and easily remedied, but Krista hadn’t and promptly started sobbing.
Pediatrics came roaring in like a SWAT team, distressing my poor spouse even further, but in short order she had a pink, screaming 7lb. 12oz. baby girl in her arms. Our daughter’s name? Ariana Faye. I noticed the Kiwi had left a mark on her scalp that looked like a “yarmulke” or skullcap. Since Ralph had previously trained to be a rabbi, and we’d often had religious discussions in the past, I idly proposed that he was trying to make a new convert.
Well, it seemed like it was all just about over. Our devoted obstetrician was even going to be able to make it to the Black Tie dinner to which he’d been invited at the Governor’s that evening. A few stitches closed a superficial but rather sensitively located laceration and we waited for the placenta…and waited…and waited…and waited.
Well over an hour later, the stubborn organ had still failed to make an appearance, despite various forms of encouragement. In the meantime, my mother-in-law, Bonnie, by now finished her angiogram, was seated in a wheel chair waiting to come in and see the baby. Instead she was treated to the sight of Krista being wheeled over to the operating room for an anesthetic and manual removal of placenta. Talk about a stress test for the old gal! (Not that she hadn’t been stressed enough already, since Krista’s son, Gavin, had obstructed again, and was hospitalized. Did I forget to mention this?)
Once into the OR our anesthetist topped up the epidural and Ralph finally managed to free the stubborn placenta. We discovered that it had partially separated at some point earlier in the pregnancy and then had re-attached to the uterus with scar tissue. The tissue held one corner of the placenta to the wall of the uterus as if it were stuck with Crazy Glue. Fortunately this was the last act of our drama. Ralph breathed a sigh of relief and headed off to Government House, just in time for dinner. We waited to be transferred from the case room to a regular hospital floor.
Taking stock of the day’s events, I felt like an actor in a tragicomic farce. Despite our misadventures, Ariana Faye was happy, healthy and breast feeding like a trooper. Krista was a little sore but felt surprisingly well considering her ordeal. Gavin’s bowel obstruction settled without surgery and Grandma Bonnie’s angiogram apparently failed to show any evidence of serious blockage.
Oh, and my migraine finally seems to be settling down…
“Ariana Faye Burden, my Fathers’ Day gift” © George Burden
Note: This article first appeared in The Medical Post