January 1, 2016 — the beginning of a New Year was the beginning of what would be my pregnancy nightmare. It was the night my water broke.
At my regular pre-natal appointment with my doctor three days prior, I had been told to expect a premature delivery because of some complications: before conception. My ultrasounds had revealed that I had a bicornuate uterus, which is a malformation and requires more than the usual care and attention.
I was also diagnosed with sub-chorionic hemorrhage during the earlier stages of my pregnancy.
The baby was due on February 7, 2016 but was now going to be here a few weeks early — in my 35th week.
I had opted for the best gynecologist and hospital in Lahore for high-risk pregnancies. I was going to be a mother for the first time and didn’t want to put anything at stake.
As I was rushing to the hospital, I was relieved that I had gotten my steroid shots as prescribed by my doctor three days ago, which would ensure the quicker development of my baby’s lungs.
Everything seemed to be happening at a good, steady pace or so I thought.
Also read: Fatal conception — Stilled life
At 1:30am, I was admitted in the labour and delivery ward of the hospital. A young woman checked my blood pressure and asked if I had received the two necessary steroid shots (there seemed to be some confusion regarding whether I had received the second one). Then, she initiated the cardiotocography (CTG) which recorded my baby’s heartbeat.
Before she left, I asked her when my gynecologist would arrive. She said he was expected to make a round at 6am.
I spent the next few hours informing my friends and family that the time had arrived, posting on baby centre and talking to my husband as he gave me company in the ward. I had already done most of the baby shopping, except for the milk bottles and size zero diapers, which my sister-in-law would be getting in the morning.
It was past 6am but there was no sign of my gynecologist. Then 7am and 8am. My baby's heart rate was monitored once more during this time. At 9am, my gynecologist walked in with a team of people behind him.
After performing a mini ultrasound, he informed me that my baby was transverse, and that I had little to no water but that he would “wait and see”.
Being a first-time mother, I did not question him on that ambiguous statement. But, in retrospect, I often wonder as to what it was he wished to wait to see.
At 11am, when I went for another ultrasound, the radiologist confirmed that my baby was indeed transverse, and that I should go ahead with a C-section immediately since there was very little water.
I was wheeled back into the labour and delivery ward accompanied by my sister-in-law, who is also a doctor. She gave my ultrasound report to the staff on duty, gave me instructions to not eat and departed. We will never know if the staff on duty ignored the report or even informed my gynecologist about it.
In hindsight, the burning question is, why was my C-section not performed right after the ultrasound scan and the radiologist’s comments?
My doctor was due to come and as I waited for him, I requested the staff on duty to monitor my baby's heartbeat for my own peace of mind.
Constant fetal monitoring is essential when a pregnant woman, whose water has broken, has been admitted for labour and delivery. It should not be requested. But in my case, continuous monitoring was absent. In fact, machines for monitoring the CTG and heart rate were not present in my cabin and had to be dragged in from other cabins.
Also read: Paediatric care: The difference between life and death
At 1:30pm, I remember calling the junior female gynecologist, who would assist my gynecologist during office hours. She was also present during the 9:00am visit made by him. I dialed twice but both times her phone was off.
At 2pm, when my mother-in-law inquired about the operation, the staff on duty said they had not been told anything and that I could also eat if I wished to because I might eventually be discharged.
Who informed the staff? Were they saying this on their own accord without consulting my gynecologist?
At 3pm, when my mother arrived from Karachi, I was in the same cabin, still awaiting the arrival of my doctor.
I was in the same clothes that I had worn the night before; in the same unsterile conditions with the staff on duty completely having stopped monitoring me by now.
Around 3:30pm, my mother began to panic and asked the doctor on duty, who had not once come to see me or monitor the baby’s heartbeat, to get in touch with my gynecologist and ask him where he was.
By that time, our family friend, a gynecologist, had also arrived to see me and pushed for some monitoring.
This time, when they began to monitor the baby’s heart rate, it was faint...
What happened thereon seems like a blur — I was changed out of my clothes into the hospital gown by one nurse, my jewellery was taken off by another nurse, the anesthetist on the side was asking me questions about any previous allergies. I could see the worried look on my mother’s face. Even my aunt, the gynecologist, looked stressed.
The last thing I asked her as I was rushed to the operation theatre was if my baby was going to be okay.
Explore: Medical mistakes — doctors should learn to own up
I did not know that my gynecologist had not arrived in time for my surgery, that the alternate gynecologist had also not arrived in time, that a regular Medical Officer had carried out the operation, that being told to eat had put my life at risk and that when my baby was taken out, he didn’t cry.
My baby, who was born brain damaged, had the heart of a fighter. He lived for two days despite all odds.
Examine: Life snuffed out too soon
My gynecologist came to see me when I was being discharged from the theatre. Teary-eyed, I asked him where he was when my baby was dying. Why did he delay my delivery when he knew I had scant water?
With quivering lips and shaking legs, all he could do was pat my back and just listen to me.
When my sister-in-law, an accomplished doctor, questioned him on purely professional grounds, he said he was waiting for my water to rebuild as it should after every three hours. But since he was not present to monitor the rebuilding, he could not justify his feeble stance.
It was discovered eventually that my gynecologist on whom I depended (after God) for the well-being of my child and myself was in Faisalabad for a wedding.
We left the hospital on January 3 although I was supposed to stay another day. Shocked, distraught and dazed, I wanted to snap out of the nightmare.
I'm sure that many of you reading this will feel it was God's will at the end of the day. But, how do I discount the sheer medical negligence which was responsible for my baby’s death?
Would something like this have taken place in developed countries like America or Canada where human life is valued and where the fear of legal action prevents doctors and hospitals from being so callous?
Physically, my body will take mere months to heal from the surgery. My invisible wounds, however, are lifelong.