Drama in real life: sweating in the ‘labour room’
To my horror, I found the umbilical cord looped twice around the baby’s neck like a noose
I met him in my Commanding Officer’s office. A seri- ous looking young man, I was introduced to him as he sat there opposite Col Dee Pee. An M Sc in Zoology from Aligarh Muslim University, he was the Post-
Graduate Teacher (PGT) in Biology at the local Kendriya Vidyalaya. Soon after having been selected, he got mar- ried and brought his bride with him to our station.
He was in CO’s office to negotiate his wife’s medical management at our hospital as a non-entitled patient. Soon after arrival in the station, she had become preg- nant. Only, the nearest civil hospital was at Tezpur some 35 kilometers away over poor North Assam roads of that time. Assam was in turmoil on the issue of infiltration by illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh. Vehicular movements were neither safe nor smooth. Mr Raj did not have any female relative at home to look after his wife. And being the only PGT of his subject, leave of absence was out of question. Col Dee Pee wished to help the young couple in their predicament. I had been sum- moned because I was the de facto resident Gynaecologist of the hospital. Kris Rau had already declared himself as the resident Paediatrician and Pathologist, and all other basic specialities fell into my lap by default.
I was asked to assess young Mrs Raj to see if I could handle the primigravida’s pregnancy and delivery at our hospital. A visiting Gynaecologist came from the Base Hospital once a week, but all difficult confine- ments among ‘entitled patients’ were referred to Base Hospital. And Mrs Raj was non-entitled.
I had two Nurses to assist me in my ‘labours’. Otherwise I was on my own. All that gave me solace was gyan from a resident Gynaecologist in my student days. Leaving me one night with two primigravidas in labour, she had allayed my fears by saying,
“Human females have been delivering babies for 25000 years without any assistance. In case of any problem, you may phone me. Otherwise, just manage.”
I invited Mrs Raj for a preliminary antenatal check up. She was a pretty young lady. An MA in English Literature from the same University, her special interest was Shakespeare’s works. She spoke elegant English. A cheerful disposition and a radiant smile marked her persona. Living nearly 2000 km from her home in Western UP, with only her husband of six months for company, she was brave too. She was five months preg- nant and in good health.
Over the next four months, I regularly examined Mrs Raj on her antenatal visits and the pregnancy progressed smoothly. We did discuss Shakespeare during these vis- its. Her favorite play was Othello and my favourite was Macbeth. Many years later, I often remembered Mrs Raj when Vishal Bharadwaj adapted these two works to make the Hindi movies Maqbool and Omkara. Mr Raj always accompanied his wife on these visits and generally sat quietly in my clinic. We did not discuss any Zoology and our conversations were limited to Greetings in the beginning and Thank You at the end of the visits. But he seemed happy with the rapport between the patient and the doctor.
Finally, the day arrived when Mrs Raj went into labour. It was around 10 am in the morning on a warm summer day. The Nurse and I assessed her and found the foetus to be alright. The patient was her cheerful self. She had been given all relevant instructions and she was very compliant and co-operative.
Around 4 pm, she went into full dilatation and regular contractions. I was summoned to the Labour Room and I went into the business of delivering her in right earnest. The foetal head appeared and episiotomy incision was carefully given. Just when I thought the baby should get delivered, the head slipped back into the uterus. This went on for about two hours. I began sweating and my heart rate went up many notches. I tried raising the Gynaecologist on phone for assistance and instructions but the gentleman was just not available!
Col Dee Pee paid us a visit, encouraged me to ‘deliver the goods’ and went home. Kris Rau came at about 7 pm, cracked a few jokes about ‘facing the music’, ‘fat being in the fire’ and ‘taking the bun out of the oven’, promised to come if I needed him and left for the Mess. The Nurses changed their shifts.
I kept sweating and praying to be ‘delivered’ of this predicament. I kept recording the patient’s vitals (which were reasonably steady) and foetal heart sounds (which fluctuated wildly). The baby’s head would almost emerge and then slip back.
At around 10.30pm, after vowing to myself never to be caught anywhere near a Labour Room again, I repeated an internal examination as the foetal head appeared. To my hor- ror, I found the umbilical cord looped twice around the baby’s neck like a noose! It acted as a leash and pulled the baby back inside every time the contraction occurred.
At my wit’s end, I decided to do something I had never read or seen being done in my limited obstetric experience. I insinuat- ed two fingers between the baby’s neck and the loops of the cord, and with a fervent prayer on my lips, I cut the cord carefully between my two fingers. Lo and behold! The baby smoothly slipped out and held by his feet, gave an angry cry to announce his delayed arrival into this world!
The Nurse received the baby and after a few minutes of ministrations, announced him to be healthy and pink. Mrs Raj slumped in utter exhaustion but with a faint smile on her lips, murmured her thanks in a whisper. The lusty cries of the baby were like music to my ears. I took a few minutes to start breathing steadily again, checked my own pulse and began getting colour back on my ashen face. The time was 11.40pm.
I then gave the new born a complete once over, got him weighed and smacked his buttocks another couple of times, partly in relief and partly to punish him for the ordeal he put me and his mother through.
Mrs Raj visited us a few more times in the Well Baby Clinic run by my friend Kris Rau. She would always drop into my office to express her gratitude and show the handsome little devil to me. And two months later Mr Raj managed to swing a posting to Agra.
The couple came one last time to my office and left me with a wrist watch as a memento. It was perhaps his way of telling me to mind the time. His parting words were that he has recommended my name to the Station Commander as his substitute, to teach Biology to the exam-going students till a new teacher is posted.