Building a Better Health Service


In praise of maternity staff

Letter of the Week -  Connaught Telegraph in praise of maternity staff at Mayo University Hospital, Castlebar.


Once again the winter of 2016-2017 was dominated by bad press for the health service and even recently the record numbers of patients on trolleys is still being reported. The Minister for Health is described as having the ‘poisoned chalice’ of portfolios.

There is, of course, good reason for all of this negativity but it is also important for us to realise and remember that this is not a blanket negativity and that there are some very positive experiences had of our health service. This does not excuse the short fallings, nor belittle their very serious effects on patients’ lives, but it does highlight the heroic work that those employed by the health service do on a routine, day-to-day basis. They must feel very frustrated at times when their extraordinary work goes unremarked, overshadowed as it is by the perennial crises.

I was a 43-year-old first time mother-to-be when I checked into Mayo University Hospital, Castlebar, to be induced at 6.30 a.m. on Tuesday, February 21, last. The experience I was to have in the six days to follow left a lasting impression on me and made me feel such gratitude to the staff there as I can hardly express.

I had heard only good things about the maternity services at Castlebar but when you do not know what lies ahead for you at a time when you are extremely vulnerable, the dire headlines from other maternity units around the country and the crisis in the A&E departments certainly do play on your mind.

Looking back now I realise that I was also quite clueless about becoming a mother, in spite of dutifully attending the antenatal classes at the hospital and reading my pregnancy book. I suspect this is a common experience for many first time mothers.

As I was classed as being of ‘advanced maternal age’ I was under closer supervision and hence the induction. My due date was February 23 and I was disappointed in not being allowed to go over that date and deliver when Mother Nature decided it was time. I was, after all, in very good health, had had an easy pregnancy and was fitter than many women 15 years my junior. When I asked to be allowed to continue beyond my due date I was told in no uncertain terms that this would not be happening. In this too, of course, the experts, were right.

From the moment I arrived in the maternity unit I met a series of midwives who were nothing short of incredible. Not one of them treated their duties as merely a job. They gave so much extra and did so much more for me, much of which they were not obliged to do.

Though probably now a dated phrase, the midwives truly did have a ‘vocation’. I was in the maternity unit for six days in total – the induction did not work, the baby’s heart was not reacting to stresses as it should and the end came via an emergency caesarean section on Thursday night/Friday morning. On a number of occasions the midwives challenged the doctors regarding their decisions about my care and for this I was very grateful. It is not that I did not trust the doctors to do their best for me; I just felt that the midwives had a wealth of experience and intuition honed by years of looking after women like me and reading their conditions.

For that reason it was a healthy situation to have their input into my care. My beautiful baby boy Callum was born at 00:38 on Friday, February 24, and was in perfect health. To us it was nothing short of a miracle.

I will never be able to express fully my gratitude for those that were present in the operating theatre that night; a team that I later learned had been on duty all day and had been sleeping when they got the call to come back on duty to perform the operation on me. Surgeons, midwives, porters, anaesthetists and students - they held my hand, they explained every step they took with the utmost patience, they reassured me throughout and they comforted me when I vomited repeatedly afterwards.

I was scared and stressed as we did not know if there was something sinister causing the poor reaction of the baby’s heart. I am very claustrophobic and found the spinal anaesthetic which cut off the feeling and power in my lower body very difficult. I felt panicked and vulnerable and terrified by times but their care, professionalism and extraordinary calm provided a balm to prevent me from teetering over the edge.

Back on the ward and the guardian angels that are the midwives swung into action to share all their wisdom of early motherhood with me. I was in awe of their confident handling of the baby and their ability to read my every need and his every need.

I never met a single one who showed a moment’s impatience or disinterest. They made me tea and toast during the night; they took Callum off and cuddled and rocked him when they could see I needed a break at 4 a.m.

The clinical nurse manager was off on the day Callum arrived into the world and next day she rushed into my cubicle and hugged me and told me how she had lit a candle for me at Mass on her day off. Others, who were also off duty on the day of his arrival, hugged and congratulated us when they came back on duty - we were deeply touched by their sincere delight and goodwill towards us.

When we were ready to leave we bought them the customary box of hospital-shop-bought chocolates and thank you card but this came in no way close to expressing our thanks for all they had done for our little family. I felt tears choke in my throat when I tried to express it to them in words when I left, amidst further hugs all round. They would hear nothing of it, they just waved it off as though nothing much and readied themselves for the next arrival.

As employees midwives are tasked with the safe delivery of babies and the care of the mother in the immediate post-natal period. However they undertake so much more and give so much more that their job description almost becomes obsolete. They are everyday heroes in the business of miracles and they deserve so much recognition and appreciation.

At the very least they deserve a public acknowledgement now and then to provide some small counter-balance to the health service debate.

Yours, Barbara Daly,  Louisburgh.

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