Jane, my wife, was pregnant. With the baby’s arrival date approaching, I wanted to make sure we were ready. She chose a doctor she was comfortable with. The doctor chose the hospital he was comfortable with. I went to see the hospital and its arrangement for childbirth. I was in for a surprise. It was a large hospital, well-known for its neonatal section.
They readily agreed to show me around. There were other expectant couples. A young, agreeable nurse guided us and explained the process. “You don’t have to look for a parking space when you come in,” she said. “You just leave your car in front of the section, in an earmarked space, and go in with the patient. After you check her in, you go back and park the car in the hospital parking lot.” That was thoughtful. “In the lobby,” she told me, “we will take charge of your wife while you do the paperwork. Then you join her in the birthing room where we will take her.” That too was thoughtful. We went to the birthing room. It was a pleasant medium-sized room with a window and diffuse lighting. I immediately liked the room. “Here she can change into comfortable clothes, lie down and wait for the moment.
A nurse will look after her and give her medicines. She will also monitor the contractions and know when to expect the baby. Depending on that, she will alert the doctor and request him or her to come.” “May I stay in the birthing room with her?” “Yes, you may. You just have to wear hospital clothes.” That was very accommodating.
“The nurse will keep monitoring your wife’s contractions. When we know that the time is right, we will call the doctor and move the patient on to another bed and transfer her to the operation room. Let us go there.” The operation room was the typical place for surgical procedures, with a stark, clinical look and aggressively bright lights. I disliked the place instantly. I asked, “Let me get this straight.
When my wife is in the most critical stage, the contractions are coming rapidly one after another, that is the time you will force her to get out of her bed, transfer to another bed and move her to this brightly-lit room, in order to have her baby. Why?” “Because we do it that way. We have here all the equipment for an emergency.” “How likely is it that she will need such equipment?” “Rather unlikely.” “And this room is just next to the other room. The emergency equipment can be moved to the other room?” “In ten seconds.” I was aghast and I said so, “It must be some obtuse male doctor who has devised this absurd system for women.
Childbirth is a natural process, and when a woman is in a most vulnerable state, you compel her to make a move and bring her into this inhospitable room. I will take that ten-second chance and let my wife have her baby in the birthing room, where I will be present.” It took some negotiation and a sixteen-point check by the doctor to permit my wife to have normal childbirth in the pleasant birthing room, with dimmed lights and soft music that she cared for, and a photo or two she wanted next to her bed.
I must add that, when the doctor finally came to deliver the baby, he again suggested that she be moved into the operating room. I held my ground and said that, unless he had just seen some condition in the patient that needed to reverse the earlier decision, she should stay in the birthing room. She stayed and had her baby in the birthing room.
No move, no hassle, smooth childbirth. It was a beautiful healthy girl. We were ecstatic. Our best hospitals and nursing homes are steadily becoming more and more like the most hard-nosed factories, where the human element is lost, patients’ ease and comfort are overlooked and the only thing that matters is the convenience of the institution – of the doctors, nurses and administrative staff. Of course, work has to be done efficiently, but when the quest for competence overlooks the patient’s human priorities, the whole profession appears in an adverse light.
I was a patient recently in more than one reputed hospital and saw several good doctors, and yet came away often with a rather negative impression. I come from a family of doctors and I consider the experience sad. I am sure there were decent people in the French aristocracy before their throats were split by the guillotine during the French Revolution. There too must have been good people in the Russian landed aristocracy before the Bolsheviks gunned them down.
Yet the systems of which they were a part were cruel, exploitative and evil. Good people, alas, are often entangled in and become an integral part of a bad system – and they don’t even notice how bad it really is until it is too late.