Labour ward is a crazy place. Its chaotic, and emotional and dynamic. I spent the last four months working in Labour Ward and I thoroughly enjoyed it. There were times I wanted to tear my hair out and tell everyone that they really need to calm down (another day, another drama), but those times made the four months that much more special. I always say that working in a ward dedicated to a specific department is not as entertaining as working in casualty, but Labour Ward is an exception.
To begin with, the patient profile is obviously pregnant woman, most of whom are in labour. And let me tell you, pregnant woman are another species. For a start, they do everything really slowly… like r e a l l y slowly. It kills me. I get that carrying a human being inside of you is probably not very comfortable, but really, you are not disabled. Patience is already not one of my strong points and when I have five reviews to do I really don’t have time to wait for you to take fifteen minutes to climb onto your bed.
They’re all also slightly insane. Especially the ones in labour. It’s as if at 6cm dilatation they all lose their minds for a few hours until they are settled in the postnatal ward with their newborn. I suppose its the pain and possibly the hormones, but they lose all inhibitions. One morning after a fairly quiet night (I knew it was too good to be true), a lady came in almost fully dilated with twins. She was also about two months preterm. She refused to let us examine her, or put the baby monitors on, or anything really. She threw her hospital gown at one of the midwives and proceeded to crawl around on the floor naked. She eventually ended up sitting underneath the delivery bed and refused to come out. After about an hour of failed negotiations we delivered her babies on the floor, when there was a freshly made delivery bed right next to her. Insane.
Another example is of this woman who expressed exactly what she was going through while in labour. She paced up and down the corridor, and then stopped suddenly, squatted slightly and shouted “Ooh Here, my Koekie!” and then continued pacing as if nothing had happened while everyone else died laughing. There was also a lady who, when we showed her her newborn born for the first time, screamed in fright. When we asked her what was wrong, she exclaimed “He’s too white!”
Labour ward is also so unpredictable. You can leave an empty ward after work one day and return to women in early labour sitting in the corridor waiting for a bed, and mothers with babies sitting in the tearoom waiting for lifts to go home while the sisters frantically play musical beds, trying to make space. You can also sit for a whole morning doing nothing and then suddenly find that someone will need a vacuum delivery, another will need a caesar, someone has delivered in the corridor and the ambulance have dropped off three new admissions all at once, and then casualty will call you with an ectopic pregnancy – all at the same time. You’ll run around like a crazy person for a few hours, not knowing exactly what is going on or who you are for that matter, until just as quickly as the storm came, it is over and you have nothing to do again. In fact, thats how Labour Ward works in general. There’s no gentle ebb and flow – there’s just tidal waves of chaos with periods of perfect calm in between.
Labour Ward is also full of lessons to be learnt. And a lot of them are difficult lessons. I think I cried more in my four months in Obs and Gynae than in my entire internship put together so far. Sometimes they were sad tears. Like the time I delivered my first stillborn baby, or when one of our new mothers decided to take her life. I cried for dead babies with heartbroken mothers, and dead mothers with orphaned babies. I cried when I injured a lady’s bladder during a caesar and sentenced her to a few weeks with a catheter in her bladder. Those tears taught me a lot though. They taught me that its okay to feel something for my patients. As doctors we think we need to be desensitized and “strong” but actually, its in these moments of vulnerability that we do the most for our patients.
Mostly I cried happy tears. Tears produced from seeing the love and joy in a first-time mother’s face when you hand her her baby. Tears produced from laughter. Labour ward is full of laughter. Whether its laughing with the mothers when they apologize for acting like a lunatic during delivery, or laughing at the ridiculousness of situations. I remember the day after that lady delivered her twins on the floor, the midwives and I chatted about it and we all just burst out laughing.
Another woman was trying to bear down but she was only 5cm dilated (she still had another five to go for the labour-naive), and no matter how much I explained to her and eventually begged her not to push, she looked me in the eyes… and pushed. She then said that she felt like she was disappointing me, and then pushed again. At the time it wasn’t funny but afterwards I couldn’t help but laugh at how ridiculous it was – In some situations thats all you can do. Labour ward is filled with those situations.
My favorite thing about Labour Ward is how uplifting it can be. I guess not all Labour Wards are empowering places, but they should be. This particular one is filled with love and compassion. Words of encouragement echo off all the walls. For every laboring woman saying they can’t go on, there are three other voices telling them they can. The midwives are fiercely dedicated to their patients, and sometimes slightly crazy themselves, but passionate. The doctors are compassionate and committed to doing what is best for their patients. The patients themselves are always so grateful and you’ll often hear thank you’s from them. They also care for each other. Many times I saw the older more experienced mothers supporting the younger ones. It’s a happy place to be.
Apart from all the medical things I learnt over these past four months – like learning how to do a caesar (preferably without injuring a bladder) what I learnt about being a compassionate doctor far outweighs that. I hardly ever felt annoyed with any patient, and when I did, it didn’t last long. Labour ward allowed me to feel like I was making a difference. It provided me the privilege to witness brand new life, over and over again. Labour Ward made me feel like a human again