Dedicated to my former colleagues from Med School who will be graduating this Friday 29th April 2011... Especially to Alois, Wilma, Oliver and Erikson, CONGRATULATIONS!!!
Above: Medical students with Community Health Worker (in blue uniform) at Sogeri
The labour ward at Port Moresby General Hospital was busy as usual that night. Women arrived, women waited and women delivered. The pungent odor of amniotic fluid mixed with the cold air-conditioned air sending a chill through the infants born that night. There was the usual sound tract of mothers and babies crying. The white walls and floor tiles glowed in the brightly lit room.
The medical student dressed in a white coat with a stethoscope hanging from his neck, paused as he looked at the women sitting on a single bench in the cold labour ward. Many held their backs and abdomen, their faces expressing the distressful events that were occurring internally.
Each woman looked at him pleadingly, wanting to be admitted into the ward. “Ol mama, sampela, wara buruk o nogat?” he asked in Pidgin. They all shook their heads. He couldn’t admit them. All the beds were occupied. Only women about to deliver or presenting with complications were given priority.
He turned and walked to bed thirty-six. The young mother there kept screaming, “dokta plis helpim mi! Ayo, baby bai kamaut nau! Helpim me...” He examined her and noted his findings on her chart. She was primigravid – a first time mum, and the baby wasn’t coming anytime soon. He reassured her and left the cubicle.
As he walked past bed thirty-five, the nurse called him in to examine the mother. The nurse looked distressed and informed him of the mother’s condition. She was grand-multi-parous; she had five children and was in labour for the sixth. Her blood pressure had shot through the roof and her consciousness was altered. She seemed stable though according to his assessment but they both decided that they should consult the Resident Medical Officer on duty.
As he was chatting with the nurse, another voice wailed from the other end of the ward. “Dokta! Plis helpim mi, het b’lo baby kamaut nau!” He rushed over to the other end and arrived just in time. He delivered the head, shoulders and the rest of this beautiful baby girl. He placed the crying neonate on her mum’s abdomen, clipped the umbilical cord and cut it. “Welcome to the cruel world, baby” he smiled as he spoke to her. He wrapped her in some clean cloth and handed her to her mum.
A couple of minutes later the placenta was delivered.
He then took the baby to the examination room. It was warm compared to the rest of the labour ward. It did not have the typical odor of aromatic compounds that was prevalent outside. The baby weighed 2.9 Kg. He administered a shot of Hepatitis B vaccine followed by Vitamin K. “I told you it was a harsh world,” he laughed as she shrieked in his arms.
He took her to her mum, who seemed remarkably well composed compared to the past half an hour. This was what impressed him about all the women who came to deliver. They would progress from the extreme of pain during labour to total calmness after delivery. If there ever was a symbol for the power of the human spirit, it was the face of a woman during and after labour.
He looked at the clock on the wall, it was 12 am. He decided it was time to go back and have some rest at the student dormitory. He recorded the details of the delivery in the register and collected all his gear. He packed his stethoscope, pregnancy wheel, tape measure, thermometer and blood pressure cuff into his bag.
He removed his white coat and washed his hands in the basin. As he began walking out the back door he could see mothers in agony, looking at him from the bench in front. There by the corridor to the back door lay women with their babies on the cold white floor, waiting to be discharged the next morning.
He smiled and said goodnight to the night duty nurses. It was to be his last night at the labour ward.
Translation of Tok Pisin to English
“Ol mama, sampela, wara buruk o nogat?” – Ladies, have any of you had your waters broken?
“Dokta plis helpim mi! Ayo, baby bai kamaut nau! Helpim me...” – Doctor please help me! I’m about to deliver! Help!
“Dokta! Plis helpim mi, het b’lo baby kamaut nau!” – Doctor! Please help me! My baby is crowning!