Once I was transferred to the post natal ward, I was put into bay ‘B4’. That was what was written on my notes, and my name was not even noted down above my bed. The experience on the ward with my first son had been noisy and stressful so another request of mine had been having a side room if possible (which I was happy to pay for). My husband asked about this on the first day, and we were told that there were none available but that someone would find out when one was free and let us know – that never happened.
When you have a c-section, you are put into bays of 4 specifically for women who have had caesarean deliveries. All the other beds were full at this point, and I pulled the short straw on the first night, being put next to a distressed Romanian lady whose way of dealing with feeling isolated was spending every waking moment talking endlessly to someone on speaker phone. She stopped doing this at about 2am, but then proceeded to continue a conversation with her baby at the top of her voice. Meanwhile, I couldn’t feel my legs and wished my ears were also numb.
Unfortunately for me, the same midwife who had ‘non-assisted’ me during labour was also providing ‘care’ on the postnatal ward. When you have a c-section, you are catheterised and so can’t really move around easily, and when you finally can feel your legs, you have to drag around a bag of wee behind you, attached to this kind of mini sandwich-board type thing, a bit like the sign they use when there’s been a spill in the supermarket. Nothing shouts ‘attention – pissy woman coming through’ quite like that.
Therefore, you feel very vulnerable as you are very reliant on buzzing staff to come to your bedside, so you can’t avoid those that may not be capable of the best bedside manner. There was also another agency midwife on the postnatal ward, who was just as inept in her manner. She barely acknowledged me, and was rude and dismissive, seeming overly obsessed with taking baby’s temperature continuously by sticking a thermometer under his arm, and failing to get a proper reading on most occasions. The desire to say to her ‘stop fucking fussing around with my baby’ was strong in me, but I resisted, especially when we’d asked her to help put his vest on and she spat at us, “he will be cold in just this – he needs something more.” “We know, we have something else, but we need you to put that one on first, arsehole,” was what I wished I had said.
I have to say that the rest of the staff, who were clearly part of the usual team, were great and worked really hard to get patients needs met under clearly stretched circumstances. I was just unlucky that most of my care was provided by the agency staff, but that doesn’t make it ok.
I was itching to get home but had to stay in for another two nights as I was told there had been blood in my urine and my bladder had been handled more than usual due to the adhesions so the catheter had to remain in for 48 hours instead of 24. I had to rely on the agency staff to change the bloody pads on the bed most of the time, and we had to request they did this after I’d been sitting in them for several hours, and explain to them what was meant by ‘pads.’ They then proceeded to roughly wash me down at various intervals without telling me what they were doing, so I felt like a cadaver on a slab.
You are supposed to be got up and out of bed as soon as possible to help prevent deep vein thrombosis but it took two days for this to happen when an actual human being came on shift on the Sunday and as well as properly changing the bed, was also able to arrange for a doctor to see me to actually explain to me what was happening with my own care, which all becomes very confused as the more hand overs you are exposed to, the more mixed up the information you get seems to be. By this point, I was pretty strung out, having been given an endless supply of pain medication without much consultation, which ended up sending me a bit loopy to the point that I had to ask to stop receiving codeine as it was proving a bad combination with the diamorphine, paracetamol and ibuprofen been pumped into me. Even then, because you have lots of different people coming on and off shift, I was still given it and had to make sure I picked it out of the mix.
I had to have Clexane admisinistered to help prevent blood clots too and you can still see the bruise where the agency midwife jabbed it into my stomach. She was also on shift on the Sunday night/Monday morning when my catheter bag was becoming full and I was getting really uncomfortable. I asked her to change it at about 4am – she refused as it was being taken out at 6am. She left and at that point I just burst into tears. I felt broken and had lost all faith in people actually caring about me when I felt at my most helpless and anxious. She was back at 6am though to rip the catheter out without any explanation or concern.
Monday came and I waited hours to be discharged. There was then a mention that I may not be allowed home due some confusion over the thyroid medication I was on. At that point, I lost it and completely broke down into a sobbing mess. It did at least mean I was able to talk through the problems that weekend with a very pleasant doctor who noted it all down for me and assured me I could have a debrief with the consultants, which has now been arranged.
I was then finally able to go home. Unfortunately, I hadn’t anticipated having to keep the knee-high, blood-stained compression socks on from surgery so I had to hobble out of the hospital with these on paired with a dress and flip flops, which was not a good look.
When I returned home, I started to get a lot of numbness in my face and when waking from sleep, my body seemed to be lagging behind my mind. It meant I was left feeling really spaced out and worried. The last thing I wanted to do was go back into hospital but my husband insisted he ring the post natal ward and they wanted to see me. On our way, they rang back to say actually could we go to A and E as the doctors would be able to see me quicker there and they had rung through for us to be seen as soon as we got there. About three hours later, we still hadn’t been seen, I was up the walls, we had our four-year-old with us getting increasingly upset as well as a two-day-old baby and I’d had enough and we left. I did ring the ward back and question in whose world sending me to A and E was good advice – it just seemed to be a way of palming off the problem to another department and again highlighted a lack of care, leaving me with the feeling I would never be ringing again for any help, which is a very sad outcome.
There are some very good staff working within maternity services who are being let down by chronic underfunding and consequent staff shortages. And this means that women are consistently receiving below par care, despite the best efforts of many on the ward. To rely on agency staff at weekends is clearly damaging the reputation of the permanent team at a time when staff are already demoralised by cuts to services. What is laughable is that they are also more expensive – what a shit sandwich it all is.
The system is being run without proper regard for the individual needs of pregnant women and their families, who should be at the heart of things. Women should feel they have a say in their care, and are not merely passive onlookers in the experience. The link between knowing those who are helping you through birth rather than being exposed to a set of strangers and an easier and calmer birth experience is not rocket science, and I struggle to see why this continuity of care is not something that is seen as a key improvement to be made. Personally knowing the woman you are attending means you know much better how they will react to situations and what will work for them, as well as their history – for instance, there doesn’t seem to be any acknowledgement that pregnancies after loss may affect the way that women are feeling. There’s clearly an increasing culture of fear and litigation that belies some of the processes and intervention that takes place now, and the correct balance has yet to be struck. Women need to be properly listened to and allowed more control over what is happening to them during labour and birth, as well as receiving proper post natal support, both physically and emotionally, and we still seem to be a long way off that goal, despite the 2016 National Maternity Review.
Read Part 1 here.