Tuesday, August 09, 2011

We are Small People

"I’ll leave the door on the latch
If you ever come back, if you ever come back
There will be a light in the hall and the key under the mat
If you ever come back
There will be a smile on my face and the kettle on
And it will be just like you were never gone
There will be a light in the hall and the key under the mat
If you ever come back, if you ever come back now
If you ever come back, if you ever come back now"

If You Ever Come Back (2010) by The Script

She was a waifish and anaemic creature, and she carried a freakishly distended abdomen which looks like it doesn't belong on her body at all. She is what we refer to as an "unbooked" mother; someone who have not submitted herself for regular checkups during the entire course of her pregnancy and had only turned up when her unborn child insisted on coming out at an inopportune moment in time. I was struck by the impression that to this particular impending mother, no time at all is opportune.

"Unmarried," the nurse informed me in a conspiratorial whisper as I walked into the labour theatre, and what a theatre it was. A show was playing and it's one of life's little tragedies. She was attended to by midwives and their apprentices, and they were suppose to give her encouragement to push. I said "suppose" because what they were doing were not at all encouraging no matter how hard one stretches the definition of the word. They slapped and pinched her when she was slow to comply with their instructions, and sometimes when she wasn't. When they re-position her limbs, the did it with a malicious forcefulness that made me flinch. One midwife in particular was practically punching her in the belly, trying to force the baby out from above. Their words were as sharp and hard as table corners, if table corners could spit demeaning insults into your face. I could tell that they absolutely despise her. I could tell that they think they are better than her, and that she is not deserving of their service. I scanned the floor, searching, because I was certain that I would find the carcass of professionalism lying in a corner somewhere in an advanced stage of decomposition.

Boris Pasternak said, "At the moment of childbirth, every woman has the same aura of isolation, as though she was abandoned, alone." Those words were hauntingly true in that room that night. Here is a girl weeping in pain and also probably because of many other things. In my mind, I imagined a wide-eyed, trusting romantic who have yet to outgrow fairy stories and happily-ever-afters; a girl who loved without reserve, daring to hold nothing back. I imagined a sociopathic older man who used her and then left her with his bastard growing in her womb. I imagined a pair of parents who are ashamed of their wayward daughter, while frequently and openly showing her just how much. In her immediate community and circle of friends, she had ceased to be human being but is now a cautionary tale and a buttery slice of gossip that goes down well with tea and biscuits.

Now, a roomful of caregivers whose very job is to give her care decided that they rather be her judges, jury and executioners while she's hurting more than she ever hurt from the birthing of an unforgettable reminder of her first real mistake. The human condition has many nadirs, and surely she was in one of them. Utterly abandoned. Utterly alone.

Her accoucheuse conveniently neglected to anaesthetise her sore and torn vagina when she was sewing her up but yet oddlly enough, she felt justified in scolding the girl whenever she yelped and whined in pain with every bite of the needle. Empathy and prejudice has an inverse relationship. The nurse had forgotten that the girl she was attending to is as much a human being as she is - or as recent events suggested; probably even more so. The nurse had forgotten that someday, each and everyone of us will find ourselves in our very own metaphorical labour theatres, utterly abandoned and alone.

She is just seventeen, a child, and already a casualty of circumstances. In our traditional, puritanical Asian country, she is a pariah and a leper; a disgrace to the unearned good name of her family. This is why I have never given a fuck about the mores of society because they have always felt wrongheaded to me. If you ask me, it's the behaviour of the self-righteous, prejudicial bullies who mistreated her which we should repudiate and lapidate instead. Not the victim. Not her.

The girl was later referred to me for a postnatal review and the first thing I did was to apologise to her for how she was treated during one of the most difficult moments of her life. I did it because I felt I owed her that. Then, I asked her if she would like something to drink.

"Yes," she said timorously, and so I went to the pantry to make her a mug of Milo. There are many medicines in the hospital's pharmacopoeia but none is quite as restorative, wholesome or beloved as a hot chocolate drink. That's something they didn't teach us in med school, and I thought that that's a pity. She thanked me for it, and for the first time in her long, cold and cruel night, she smiled.

You know what? That smile made me want to change the world.

Trying to be the difference,
k0k s3n w4i


Azygous said...

That explains why these girls prefer labouring in the toilet, open field, edge of a river or seek help from unlicensed "midwives". It's just too much of humiliation they have to go through.

How about some sex education?

Answer from a prominent religious leader from this country (you know who) :

"Sex education is like teaching thieves how to steal"

The spiritual leader even said sex education would encourage children to learn about sex among themselves, resulting in negative incidence like throwing away unwanted babies.

It is because of the existence of these kind of babaric mind resulting in more stigmas against these poor kids who are merely victims of circumstances.

Tell me, how the hell education about human sexual reproductive system, intercouse, reproductive health, emotional relations, reproductive rights, responsibilities, abstinence, contraception, etc can result in such negative acts?

Someone have to send these people back to school...

Phoebs said...

this story is sad. im glad you were there :)

shanaz@RS said...

This post really did give a tug at my heart. Like you, I feel as strongly about tossing the pretentious mores of society in the dustbin whenever it is so easy for these so-called 'good' folks to be ridiculously righteous, judgmental and uncaring lunatics in the face of someone else's mistakes, unfortunate turn of events or whatever. Their holier-than-thou attitudes make me me cringe. Thank You for shining a light in the girl's life with your thoughtful gesture. =)

pinksterz said...

my mom told me once about her experience waiting in the labour room and in the bed next to her was a woman shrieking in labour pain. the nurses there were super rude saying things like "oh sekarang tahu sakit time buat dulu sedap je kan?"

i am doing my first attachment in O&G now and i thought to myself okay so there might be some not so nice people in there but so far everyone is quite nice.

p.s. eh currently i am doing O&G attachment at melaka. by any chance, is avinash from your batch from manipal? XD

Zzzyun said...

you know, despite how you try to portray yourself as a cynical person, underneath you are actually a nice person. :P

and seriously, i feel so sorry for how society has treated the so-called scum of society. ppl with mental illnesses are a sad population too...

c3rs3i said...

Whilst milo can indeed be drank hot and does taste like chocolate, these don’t lend to synonymy with hot chocolate/cocoa.

But yes, it is Malaysia’s national comfort beverage and it was very kind of you to show her compassion beyond that required of your profession in the face of the abuse she received from everyone else - Aren’t you nice when you’re not lambasting holy books =).

Maybe some day when you’ve moved up from the bottom of the medical food chain, instead of making up for such actions, you will be able to make sure they don’t happen.

Terri said...

Y U NO do something while it was happening?!?! D: am so grossed out and horrified my vagina is cringing in empathy!

nicoletta said...

I meant to comment on the post preceding this one but never made it due to the general tardiness of my life, and Julian falling sick and all.

Thank you for writing this post, k0k, and for being the only person in that whole damnable arena to show the smallest bit of compassion for the girl. I can’t help but feel for her, and knowing that there are many, many more with similar predicaments as her…an unwanted pregnancy – from the time you find out – can be one of the hardest things for a girl, especially an adolescent one, to deal with what with the superficial judgement of family and friends and society. It’s no wonder why she never sought any form of maternity care previously. I vaguely remember you writing about your becoming a doctor had nothing to do about any of that altruistic stuff, wanting to help people and all, but from this post it’s clear that compassion is a reflex for you.

For me, I guess it just reveals how lucky I’ve been – I became pregnant at exactly the age of twenty, much to the relief of my relatives’ because it would have been pretty much a terrible name-smearing thing had I been in my teens. I was pretty depressed with the whole thing and my parents and my then-partner and all and didn’t seek maternity care until I was 24 weeks pregnant, and when I finally did, well the remainder of my pregnancy and subsequent labour and delivery became a lot happier than that of the girl’s in your post. NZ is big on maternity care, so I got off lucky. I had free antenatal and postnatal consultations with a nice, experienced (very professional) midwife. You can pick your own midwife / obstetrician here, or you can even stick to your family GP – basically you can just select someone who makes you feel comfortable and she’ll probably deliver your baby as well.

The day I went into labour, I was put in this incredibly spacious birthing room with just one bed and of course, the only people who were present were my then-partner and the midwife, who came in at intervals to check my blood pressure and dilation and all (when you’re in that much pain you really couldn’t give a fuck if people prod you about or see you naked or whatever...) I don’t really remember how I passed the twelve awful hours of labour; I was in too much pain to be able to keep track of time, or even think of time. I kept glancing at the clock but I couldn’t make sense of it. When it came to the moment of actual delivery, another midwife came in and that was all the people. No medical students or hordes of spectators despite the hospital being one of the biggest and busiest in Auckland; I think they usually witness C-sections, but only with the prior express permission of the patient. Conditions are better over here unsurprisingly. Now, I hate to be writing this stuff because it will certainly make people think of my tearing vagina, but of course my vagina tore, and badly (‘an unnatural tear’ it was described) because I didn’t have an episiotomy. Unlike the girl you wrote about, I was anaesthetised during the stitching, and when I cried because it still hurt like hell, the doctor anaesthetised me again until I had some relief. But afterward when I got up from the bed I all but passed out because nobody had told me I’d lost a litre of blood during the delivery, and then I had to be hooked on to the drip and somebody had to take care of the newborn Julian and I remained in the hospital for a week.

Looking back, I can’t believe I went through all that. Well, I guess this is a pretty long comment but I just thought I’d share my experiences – with most of the tedious graphic stuff filtered out…


You’re right about Milo, the panacea to all the ills of the world. After delivery, my midwife made me a cup of hot Milo and two slices of toast (which I declined).

Andrew Jaden said...

You did well, Sen Wai. I can't believe such a thing is happening back home. OUTRAGEOUS. How can they be so unprofessional? Your compassion touches me... don't lose it, ok?

Liz said...

Such a tragic story, but you told it beautifully, and your ending is inspiring! :D

I wonder if we can really truly be rid of the self-righteous hypocrite that, admittedly, is in all of us. Some stronger than others. >.< It was painful to read that. :(

And Andrew Jaden is right; your compassion is a precious thing indeed. And over the years, as you continue on in your career, may that be the ONE thing you hold on to, if nothing else. God bless~ :)

k0k s3n w4i said...

Azygous: i never understood why the pious lot are so afraid of teaching children properly about how reproduction works. the problem is not the fact they are having sex (which will happen no matter what one does). the problem is unwanted pregnancies.

Phoebs: :):):)

shanaz@RS: i like how you called them "uncaring lunatics". it struck me as a sort of madness too.

pinksterz: i can't believe how anyone can say anything like that in their line of duty - i find it unimaginable. and yeah, avinash was my batchmate. he's in o&g in malacca now?

Zzzyun: i am not nice. i was just doing my job, and my job is to make people feel better. i was always more enamoured by the art of medicine rather than the science.

c3rs3i: note that i said "hot chocolate drink" which you must agree is an accurate description of milo (except when it's drank cold). i am generally quite mindful of the specific words i choose to use. anyway, how i acted in this situation stemmed from the same place as my general disapproval of religion. i am attempting to correct what i perceive as flaws in society.

Terri: yes, i should have done something - i feel like kicking myself for not stopping it when it happened. however, considering my current lowly position, i fear that i would achieve little in the betterment of the girl's treatment but instead, put myself in a lot of unwanted trouble. i did what i could.

nicoletta: yes, i read about julian's run in with some nasty bugs. hope he's feeling a lot better now. and a litre of blood? well, first time mothers are known to be at a higher risk of for significant blood loss (and anything more than half a litre is considered to be significant). i'm glad you pulled through okay. thanks for sharing your experience - it's refreshing to know about how things ought to be done.

Andrew Jaden: i'll try to hold on to it :)

Liz: god has nothing to do with my compassion. on the contrary, belief in god probably resulted in the girl's mistreatment in the first place (deuteronomy 22:13-21, qur'an 24:2-9) - and each and every one of the girl's tormentors were either christians or muslims. i wrote this post to remind everyone that oftentimes, it takes an atheist to do the right thing.

Rewarp said...

Yes. That's pretty fucked up. Makes me want to reach out and give that girl an apology on behalf of humanity too.

Liz said...

Whoa whoa whoaaaa. I come in peace!! I never said that God had anything to do with your compassion, did I? @.@

All I did was compliment you, k0k s3n w4i, on your actions, and your writing. :( And though you may not believe in God, which I respect, as you know, I only wished that the God I believed in would bless you. That's ALL that was meant with "God bless".

And did you seriously, honestly write this post with that intention? I guess it changed how I see the story now.

k0k s3n w4i said...

Rewarp: that's why we do the things we do, mate.

Liz: i knew you came in peace, but i also know your god. your god blesses and rewards faith, not deeds. i remember we've discussed this before; according to the texts of your religion, no matter what i do, i will still burn in hell for not believing. it is true that you did not say that your god had anything to do with my compassion, but invoking god in this case for any purpose at all seems strange to me seeing as the religion surrounding your god is probably what informed society's hatred of the unchaste - hence my previous reply (which isn't meant to be hostile, by the way, but rather a statement of facts). and when i talked of changing the world, i am indeed thinking of laying waste to every irrational beliefs, traditions and prejudices that humankind holds. faith and religion made up most of those things. if this changes your perception of the story, then it merely affirms my suspicions that to a religious person, an individual's views supersedes his actions.

Zzzyun said...

it's okay. as long as in the end, the patient can feel your compassion. the fact whether you are "nice" or not is just a label ;)

c3rs3i said...

KSW: Ok, I read it as hotchoc.drink and not hot.chocdrink.

N: Thanks for sharing your experience. I did wonder, admittedly, but as there's no genteel way of asking after a person's vagina and it being quite a personal matter, I refrained. I'm not in the medical line so I know nothing of the threshold of bloodloss afterwhich there is mortal danger but bleeding a bottle of coke in blood sounds like a scary enough amount - glad you pulled through and are okay now. All this is increasing my appreciation for my own mother exponentially - that she went through all that and hasn't said to me even once "YOU OWE ME! FOR LIFE!" is astounding. Truly, truly, selfless.