Monday, February 7, 2011

NHS ... babies and all that

People today have no idea how well off they are with today’s NHS compared with years ago. I recall quite clearly my first visit to our local hospital In Lough-borough. (I had been in Nottingham hospitals when a child: six weeks in an isolation hospital in a ward of adult women — no toys, no books, no visitors inside, only a chat through a window twice a week with my mum who had to make two bus journeys to get there; and a horrid ‘conveyor belt’ experience when I had my tonsils out a few years later.)
It had been established that I was pregnant and I guess the blood test, I was about to have, would determine whether I would qualify for a hospital bed when ‘delivery’ time arrived. It should be noted that unless you had a good case — problems expected or poor housing with no hot water or other essentials — your baby would be delivered at home in the care of a midwife and your own doctor. No matter that we were new to the area and had no one to help. Husbands did not get time off unless they took part of their two weeks annual holiday. Giving birth was no ‘big deal’ in those days. No classes to attend, no fuss, no social contacts — you saw your doctor only occasionally and given tablets for morning sickness. Being terribly ignorant and worried sick, I read a book. Looking at a diagram I was even more concerned. I told my doctor at my next visit that I did not think I had space between my pelvic bones for a head to pass through. He dismissed my fears and said I would be examined at the eighth month and that my build was all right. So I went on worrying.
The above hospital appointment was to take place in the Pathology labs. I found the guy in charge. He sat me in a room, stuck a hollow needle in my arm and left me to it, while drop-by-drop my blood dripped into a small phial he had given me to hold. I should mention here that I have a phobia (largely under control now) concerning blood and hypodermic needles.
I sat on that chair trying to take my mind off what was happening. When the guy returned I was trying not to fall off the chair. He pushed my head between my legs and removed the instrument of torture. I was taken to an examination room to lie down. Horrors! The bed had a sheet with a huge bloodstain that had not been washed out by the laundry. A consultant came to make sure my baby was okay. When feeling better I walked home. Shortly after I saw someone who told me that I had not been awarded a hospital bed, as my circumstances did not warrant it. ‘Even though you did apply before you could be certain you were pregnant,’ she added. No use telling her that my doctor told me to apply at twelve weeks.
In those days you spent at least a week in bed. I booked into the local nursing home, even though we could hardly afford it. They messed things up and I was sent to hospital as an emergency. Baby was born, with the help of a large episiotomy about 40 hours later — blue. I was sent back and baby kept for another day. How’s this for hygiene? When my next baby was born, also as an emergency, when I arrived at the hospital I was given an ordinary test tube and told to go to the toilet and pee straight into the tube! My bulge made things incredibly difficult — my hands, arms and legs were well wetted. BUT I was chased back to bed and not allowed to wash my hands. ‘You can do that when the bowls come round after lunch,’ I was told.
Because I had a huge bleed with the second baby my third infant was allowed to be born in hospital. Bond Street hospital in Leicester had been an old factory. Incredible. Caesareans were seldom done in those days; my huge baby (as was my second) was born (eventually) with forceps. My damaged uterus caused me problems for years until I had it removed.
How different today! Mothers take note — be grateful for all the good things on offer today (pre-natal and aftercare). My babies were born 15 miles away in three different hospitals. Dad was nowhere near. I was alone and frightened, especially when I had my first. On occasions I was left alone in a delivery room, distressed and lonely. At least a health visitor called a few times after my babies were born and I saw others at the weekly clinic. My story is not unusual.
Having had a number of operations, I think our NHS is fantastic. If you had been around in the early stages — corridors as waiting areas, crowded wards, cancer a death sentence, occasional scruffy toilets, smoke-filled ward-sitting rooms, you would feel the same way.