I put my food aside, picked up a magazine and flicked through as I waited to be summoned. Time moved ever so slowly and I found myself looking at the clock every few minutes. I, of course, could not read in that state so I decided to clean up my room expecting to be called at any moment.
Thirty minutes passed and I still wasn’t summoned. Curious I made my way to the hospital building and this time found about three more women in front. I recognized Mr. Bass’ mother in law.
“Is he here now?” None of the women understood English so I went into the building where I met Mr. Bass and his sister.
“Is he here now?” I asked without preambles
“No doctor, we waiting. They be here quickly”
“There hasn’t been anything quick about this whole thing.” I snapped at him.
“My wife okay?”
“For now, yes.”
“We wait small, doctor”
I left weary at heart now. I wondered briefly if telling him his wife was in danger would help him take a decision quickly but I soon dropped the notion. It was their choice to make and if they were going to take a risk with the life of their baby I would leave them to their decision despite how ridiculous I found the circumstance.
I went into the labour room where the patient panted through another wave of contraction and took the chair on the other side of the nurse at her table.
“I don’t think I’ll ever understand the line of reasoning delaying this decision. Why does the man have to inform his father in law?”
“He is covering his end. This way he wouldn’t be blamed if the woman dies.”
“What if the father in law was late?”
“Then her uncles or brothers would be informed.”
I stood up, “so why can’t her brothers help us with the decision now?”
“They are too young, ten and eight, I already asked.” the nurse said dryly
“What of her uncles?”
“They can’t take a decision when her father is alive.”
“Even when there is a life at risk?”
“Perhaps if she was dying, but for now they are hoping that the baby will come safely.”
I slumped back to my chair. “This cannot happen where I’m from.”
“You were born and bred in the city. You don’t understand rural life”
“This is an extreme rural life situation,” I said. I was disgusted with the whole situation and just wanted it over with.
I went to the patient and listened to the baby. “Foetal rate is 136. Looks like we’ve lucked out.”
“Or the calm before a storm,” the nurse said in a crisp voice.
“Don’t be pessimistic. What was your last recorded foetal heart rate?”
“Hmmm,” I said contemplatively as my patient started to groan. I listened again. The rate went up to 146 and after the contractions it dropped to 126
“Seems FH is dropping fast.”
The nurse joined me. I listened again we were down to 120. I heaved and dropped the pinnard stethoscope in disgust. “Keep listening,” I said as I stormed off to the waiting room.
“You have to take a decision now. The baby is dying. Where is the person you sent? Where is this mystical farm and person that is impossible to find?” I was yelling and all the pent up frustration coated my voice.
Everyone turned to stare at me at my outburst. I must have looked crazy screaming like that to a bunch of silent people. Three quarter of the people there didn’t understand me.
“Mr. Bass” I barked.
“He catch animal, he in market.” He said with an apologetic voice.
“What?” I asked in confusion. I heard the words but I didn’t understand what he was saying.
“He catch animal, he go to market to sell. They find him.”
“What?” I asked again more confused.
Somebody else I didn’t know joined the conversation and after about three minutes explanation I got the drift. The man’s trap had caught an animal and the man had gone to the market to try and sell his game.
“Are we still going to wait for him?” I asked incredulously.
“Market close, he come soon,” was Mr. Bass’ reply
“YOUR BABY IS DYING.”
“Doctor….sorry….wait small,” he said bringing his forefinger and thumb together to show me how much time I needed to give him.
“Doctor” someone called behind me
It was the Orderly. I was wanted by the nurse. I rushed to the labour room fearing the worst and found the nurse bent over the patient’s abdomen listening.
“I can no longer pick the foetal heart.”
“Do come and listen.”
I took the pinnard stethoscope from her hand and put it over my patient’s abdomen and listened. I shifted it and listened again. I moved all over and finally I got something. Excited I put my finger to feel my patient’s pulse and to my disappointment they were in synchrony. I tried to listen again but my patient was groaning in pain now
“Can I have a pair of gloves?” I told the nurse and no sooner were the words off my lips than she placed them in my hand.
I did a vaginal examination and found out she was fully dilated but there was so much caput now and it didn’t look like the head could come out of that pelvis. I listened again but I still could not pick up the foetal heart beat
I asked the nurse to listen again just to be sure but she didn’t hear it either.
I didn’t know how to use the forceps or ventouse for assisted deliveries but even if I did we didn’t have any.
The patient clutched my hand as I tried to leave her side “baby….baby” she said repeatedly as the pain washed over her again and again.
“We have to take her in. she is in pain and who knows we may just still be able to save the baby.”
“I know,” the nurse replied wearily “but we still need to have the consent form signed.”
I went to the waiting room but no one was there. I found them all in front of the hospital complex looking at the gate in anticipation. The screams of my patient made them turn before I could speak.
Her husband ran to me and grabbed my hand.
“Why is she shouting? How is she?”
Such news is typically begun with the words ‘I’m sorry’ but I didn’t want to say those words. I shouldn’t be apologizing. They should be!
“Doctor,” he said shaking me
“We can no longer hear the baby’s heartbeat. I’m sorry but the baby may be dead. ” I said finally.
The man went still trying to take it in.
“We still have to operate. We think the baby is too big to pass through so we need to go in and we need you to sign the consent form.” I explained patiently.
By now we had about six women surrounding us. I recognized only his sister and mother in law. They were asking him something in their language but he didn’t reply.
“I sign,” he said.
At that moment we heard the tinkling of a bicycle bell and we all turned in time to see a middle aged man cycling in. He jumped off his bicycle and started to run towards us.
It was the man I saw in the food seller’s stall that morning.
“Who is that?”
“My father in law,” was the tired response.
The Bass lost their baby because of a secret tryst.