Pregnant belly

Birth by Government: Part II

Happy new year folks, I hope you all had a good Christmas. Getting caught up in the general busy-ness of the festivities I lost my blog time but now back and at it I’ll make strenuous efforts this year to beat the number of people I pissed off in 2007.

In an attempt to keep up with things I’ve been reading through a few of John’s offerings and stumbled across his report of his experience of the National Health Service during the birth of his son. John and I have a lot in common: we’re both libertarians, polemicists, ex-evangelicals, love coke (cola, that is), big into music and so the list continues. Seemingly we also share another feature: a first hand experience of the ineptitude of the National Health Service when our respective sons were born. And so in a post- Michael Moore’s “Sicko” documentary world I thought I relay to you another experience that Mr Moore for all his objectivism wouldn’t have dared to include in his ‘British NHS is paradise’ thesis.

My son was born on 21st September 2006. In the run up to the child birth and the week that followed we experienced what I can only refer to as a catalogue of errors which makes me want to blow up hospitals every time I think about it. Because I don’t have all day I’ll stick to just a few of the errors, which should give you flavour enough for what lies behind the doors of Moore’s paradise. My wife was brought into hospital on the 20th September and the fun began. After settling in she was visited by a midwife who informed her that if she went into labour she would have to have a natural birth. Sound reasonable, eh? Well, the problem was that 3 months earlier doctors had found an ovarian cyst which had to be cut out, and it was planned to do this during a caesarian section. We hadn’t made any preparation for a natural birth at all because it just wasn’t an option. But the midwife insisted that it was. Seemingly she hadn’t bothered to read the medical notes or even listen to our protests. My wife spent the best part of the night in tears worrying about it. Hardly, “relax you’re with Hilton!” eh?

Fast-forwarding through a smidging of staff shortage, a dollop of ineptitude, and a pinch of sheer ignorance, we arrive at the birth. Due to the presence of the cyst it was decided that my wife had to be knocked out for the birth and that I couldn’t be present. Fair enough, that’s pretty standard. So, I walked her down to the operating theatre and handed her over to the doctor who had been dealing with us for months and knew the situation. I returned to the ward safe in the knowledge that she was in good hands. Or was she? I’ve since learned that “good hands” are few and far between in the NHS. Most caesareans involve a horizontal cut along the lower abdomen, but because of the cyst operation my wife had to have a vertical cut down her abdomen. 5 minutes into the operation the surgeon thinks “Shit, we’ve just cut her the wrong way” – horizontally – rather than vertically. The upshot being that my wife now has a scar on her abdomen that looks a tad like an upside down cross: which, incidentally, adds to my stress that my child is indeed the anti-Christ come to earth! Perhaps for our next child I’d be better off booking my wife into one of the local butchers shops.

Surely nothing else could go wrong? Surely they would have been really careful after these blunders? Surely they wouldn’t be so grossly incompetent for a few days yet? You’d think. But…..

Picture the scene. The day after a child birth and a major operation in which an ovary had just been cut off with a cyst the size of a grapefruit, a woman lies in her bed unable to move, to hold her child, to change his nappy, to get dressed, to get washed. Surely one of those nice midwives would help her get to the shower at least and get out of her operation gown (yes, still wearing the bloodied gown the next day). Again, you’d think. She was told there was no reason she couldn’t go and get showered herself. Within 10 minutes she had collapsed in the shower and had to pull the alarm for help. For the entire day there wasn’t a midwife available to assist us in any small way, and they refused to allow me (you know, just the fucking father of the blasted child!) to stay except during visiting hours and help her out; lets face it, she would’ve got better care from me.

As the day wore on my wife was increasingly more in pain. At 9.30pm I got the attention of a doctor to ask her why she thought this was and we discovered to our horror that no pain relief had been administered all day. My wife was still on prescription only painkillers 3 weeks after the birth and operation and here she was only one day afterwards with no pain relief. When we brought the matter up with the ward manager we were told it was my wife’s responsibility to ask for pain relief. Thankfully my mother is a nurse in the same hospital, and in fact on the same level (gynaecology), so was able to fight our corner and inform the manager that that was a load of bullshit and she knew it! Go mom! Someone dropped the ball perhaps?

I could go on at length, but I won’t. The attitudes of most medical staff in the NHS that we met is that they don’t want to know and can’t be bothered, a situation which isn’t aided by the chronic staff shortages we witnessed on several occasions. This is the reality folks. This is Health by Government. Maybe it’s time to try something else?

A few months after the birth my wife and I were strolling through Belfast city centre when we chanced upon a trade union protest: employees in the health service whining about their poor pay and conditions. One man offered me a little badge and I refused to accept it and walked on. He called after me, “But it’s for the health service!!” As if that meant I should have given unquestioning support. I bit my tongue. My wife didn’t. She stopped and looking the guy in the face yelled “The health service is fucking useless!” I must admit I was fairly frightened – surrounded by 200 angry union activists (any libertarian’s nightmare) – but there was a great hilarity about it too: my wife is small (4 foot 11 inches) and this was a huge burly ape of a man who didn’t know where to look. I like to think his balls shot up straight into his stomach when he got challenged. If they did I wouldn’t recommend using the NHS because, in the wonderfully poetic words of my wife, “The health service is fucking useless.”


To read the earlier story by John Wright, click here.