A striking "Natal" experience

Sandie Rutherford Thomson


A Natal experience

The strike was a day old. I woke up wondering what the day would hold. I was not concerned about the principles of the strike. They were sound. Physically deteriorating hospitals such as King Edward VIII have been unfit for habitation for several years with collapsing roofs and nesting pigeons. Lack of essential equipment as evidenced by the collapse of any endoscopy service at a major regional hospital. This despite four full motivations which were “lost in translation since 2006”. It includes the matter of deep frozen medical and nursing posts. They result in the curtailment of service delivery, the prevention of staff retention and development, and crucially for budding surgeons reduction in operating time. Then of course there is a matter in the driver’s seat that of a market related wage for doctors in the public service which has taken the focus away from the other just as critical issues.

I was concerned whether my Interns and Registrars were going to be there and how the surgical department can still run a semblance of an emergency service. I was not relishing being hounded by Human Resources to furnish a positive and negative roll call for my vigilante superintendent. I arrived at my hospital still standing despite several political health policy decisions indicating its demise as a regional hospital and it sale or demolishment. I emerged from underground parking headed for the lifts the only ones in a state hospital where on the premise of efficiency you can only select your floor outside the lift, prior to embarkation. There in the short walkway to the lobby just next to the “Today Tomorrow, Together ATM” was a commotion. There was a lady lying on the tiled walkway with her legs asplay. Several matrons were faffing about her. One was comforting her at the head end and one was between the legs on her knees. The theatre matron had just arrived with a trolley. One with wheels which go round.

I was now a yard or two away from the melee and the baby had emerged and was grasped by the matron on her knees. She was so astounded by nature’s success that she immediately handed the baby to the theatre matron who walked away with it to her trolley. There was however, a slight problem. Nobody had either the means or the fore sight to clamp the cord. It went twang. It was difficult to add to the mess on the tiles which was impressive but this did splatter it around a bit more. I thought the baby might exsanguinate. I quickly put my replacement computer from my recent high-jacking down on Matrons trolley, and finger clamped the cord. One of the other matrons with the modicum of obstetric experience took over this task. I then looked at the bloody mess on the tiles which was even more impressive than I noticed at first glance. The matrons were trying to provide a human shield to protect the lady’s dignity from the rubberneckers in the passage. This was only part of their plan as it was now evident from forlorn gaze that they expected me to do something. They even provided me with some gloves for a purpose. I might say that usually little phases me but now I was expected to deliver the placenta. A task I had last done in 1974 as a medical student when as I recall I had an umbilical cord to help me retrieve it. There was no cord in sight, so I then went groping for the cord in the vagina. I then remembered that she still looked pregnant so I pressed on the uterine fundus and pulled gently on the cord and the membranes. The placenta slithered onto the floor. It turned out to be intact.

There were no vuvuzelas to herald the great event only the broad grin of a striking orthopaedic registrar who had joined the throng to witness my plight. By this time the essential heavy duty sanitary towel and another trolley with wheels which go round had arrived. The lady with the aid of a caring matron and some strategically draped towels hopped on board her transport to the post natal ward. I am pleased to report that the mum her third child, a baby girl, and my replacement computer are fine. I proudly reported my success to the head of obstetrics. Her district level department delivers each month some 600 babies of which 160 come into this world by caesarian section.

This experience certainly brightened my day and helped me to cope with the days ahead. Based on this I was left wondering whether I should change my bank from “Inspired, Motivated, Involved” to “Today, Tomorrow, Together”. I hope, the strike galvanizes all involved in health care provision, to give these words credence.

Sandie R Thomson. Surgeon
33 Falkland Place

Author's affiliations

Sandie Rutherford Thomson, Professor

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Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2009;99(10):711.

Article History

Date submitted: 2009-07-17
Date published: 2009-09-30

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