I have only been a patient in hospital a handful of times, mostly in the maternity ward. I remember the first time I gave birth; wrapped up in post-natal euphoria, I said to the midwife, “You have the best job in the world.” And I meant it. To be on the front line of care; to see women in their most raw and vulnerable state, and to assist them through an often traumatic experience, is a great privilege.
But they also have a stressful job. In a delivery suite, midwives witnesses pain, heartache, joy and grief daily. They play such an important role in the birthing experience. During an eight-hour shift, they have the capacity to alleviate pain and discomfort, to connect emotionally with a patient and to impart compassion and significantly influence a patient’s experience.
Childbirth is unpredictable and often presents dangers to both mother and baby. Things can and do go wrong and even a safe delivery can result in postnatal complications as I experienced.Two weeks after giving birth to my third daughter I suffered a serious postpartum haemorrhage that almost resulted in a hysterectomy. During my stay in hospital I experienced the best and worse in patient care. Whilst I received the medical attention I required, the initial patient care I received was appalling.
When I arrived at the labour ward, Midwife 1 casually ushered me to a delivery suite. She was glib, condescending and rude. Evidently, my haemorrhage was of great inconvenience to her, and her attitude was immediately upsetting.
My obstetrician’s initial assessment was brief. Thinking I must be suffering from an infection he administered intravenous antibiotics. He said that I would be monitored overnight and sent for an ultrasound first thing in the morning to check for any retained placenta. And with that, I was left to bleed throughout the night.
For the duration of her shift, Midwife 1 did not display a hint of comfort or kindness. When I asked for a nappy for my 13-day-old baby, who had been plucked sleeping from her bassinet when we rushed into hospital, she responded accusingly: “Didn’t you bring any nappies?” Stunned, I tried to explain that we’d left the house in a hurry, but she cut me off and sighed. “We don’t have any here. You’ll have to tell your husband to go and get some”.
As I lay in a pool of blood, her lack of compassion continued. I asked for maternity pads and she replied with scorn, “Didn’t you bring any of those either?” When I later requested help positioning my baby to breastfeed it was met with overt irritation.
Later that night, I buzzed for help to go to the toilet, given I had a drip in one arm and blood-soaked towels in the other. “It’s on wheels,” she said pointing to the stand holding the intravenous drip. “You can just move it in with you – you don’t need my help.” Her lack of compassion was deplorable, and for the next few hours I lay in the hospital bed weeping softly, too nervous to ask for any more help. My baby cried next to me and I couldn’t comfort her. I was scared and alone, as my husband had returned home to our two young daughters. And then, everything changed.
Midwife’s 1 shift ended and Midwife 2, a caring and compassionate woman, replaced her. Alarmed by my blood loss she wasted no time paging my obstetrician and I was rushed to theatre. I was given a blood transfusion and underwent a procedure to stop the bleeding. I later learned that I was lucky to avoid a hysterectomy. My obstetrician performed a curette, inserted a balloon device into my uterus to control the bleeding and restitched my episiotomy stitches that had split.
The next day I voiced a complaint about the care I received from Midwife 1. I asked to be cared for by someone else the following night, and thankfully, my request was granted.
By comparison, Midwife 2 was nothing short of angelic. The moment she stepped into my room I felt comforted. She was a mature woman, with years of true caring experience behind her. And with her initial acts she began to transform me. She gave me a gentle sponge bath and brushed my teeth. She cleaned me up – and then brought me hot toast and tea. For the next few days she helped me with the most basic of human acts. I never felt the slightest bit of embarrassment or inconvenience to her.
The cause of my haemorrhage was unclear. Apparently a secondary postpartum haemorrhage affects approximately 1% of women following childbirth. But what is clear is the fundamental failure of Midwife 1 to provide basic patient care alongside first-rate medical treatment. The fact that in my most vulnerable and fragile state, I felt too uncomfortable to ask for help is abysmal. The same, fortunately, cannot be said for Midwife 2. She was like my angel and embodied everything that is precious about midwifery.
Have you been a patient in hospital many times? What was your experience of patient care? Did you suffer any complications during or post birth?