Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Mugged at Work

I was mugged at work today by a mom who almost didn't survive her most recent delivery a few months ago.

This pregnancy mug has been passed to each successive expectant parent over the last 20 years at my office. The flowers are silk, so they might be as old as the mug. It's considered a good luck charm to the point that the coworkers in my unit were nervous that I wouldn't get it before the arrival of 3B.

There were several other babies due just before 3B is, and one of those expectant mothers announced her pregnancy before I announced ours, so she had the mug. As it turns out, she needed all the good luck and outstanding medical care that she could get, so while I'm glad to have the mug now, I'm glad that she had the mug when she did.

She and her husband, who both work here, found out at their 20-week ultrasound that she had complete placenta previa, which meant that she was on bed rest for the remainder of her pregnancy. They also went in at least every other week for ultrasounds to check the placenta and the baby's development. He was able to continue working because her family came over from Korea to live with them while this was going on, which meant that we were able to get regular updates on her condition.

Being a nervous expectant father, I was stopping by his cube every day with little questions about how to do this or that--this is their second child--and also asking how his wife was doing. Everything looked fine and the baby got old enough that they were providing it steroids to speed up lung development. They got to and past the date the doctors had told them that the baby would be viable, given the accelerated lung development, and things were still looking good, but they knew that birth was going to require critical care, given the position of the placenta.

One Friday, they got a referral for a Monday appointment with a doctor who had successfully handled cases like this before who delivers at a hospital that could provide that care. Of course, the baby came over the weekend. I won't go into all of the details here, in part because I don't want to reveal more of their private story than I already have, but at one point they had the dad leave the room because they weren't sure that his wife would survive the next few minutes.

Suffice it to say that we're lucky that both mom and baby came through alive and well, and that she was back at work yesterday to hand me this mug.

For Mama and me, it was a reminder that we can't take anything for granted. If our pregnancy, labor, and delivery go well, we are lucky. If we're lucky, our labor and delivery will be run by the midwife, with assistance from the doctor, if needed, just as they've described in our childbirth classes. Ours is a collaborative practice, with six or so doctors and nine or so midwives, with an emphasis on pregnancy being a normal event, not an illness--unless something about the pregnancy is a health risk. Mama and I have met with each of the practitioners through our prenatal visits, so we know all of them somewhat, meaning that it won't be a stranger delivering 3B.

If we're not so lucky with labor and delivery, I'm glad to know that we're using the same practice that my coworkers have used--it's close to the office, so many of them have gone there--and delivering at the same hospital, which by all accounts, is an excellent facility. I'm also glad that we live 10 minutes from the hospital. Seven minutes when I speed through lights and cut corners. Yes, I've practiced.

This mug is also a reminder of the good fortune we enjoy living in a country with enough good doctors and hospitals. Just before my coworkers went through this delivery, one of Mama's coworkers came back from a reproductive health fact-finding trip to Ethiopia, where there is one OB for 3 million women. That would be like having three OBs for all of Los Angeles. Of the women he has time to see, he reported in an off-handed way that three or four die every day. There's no accounting for how many die that he never sees.

As the fact-finding group departed, the doctor was leaving to go look for transfusion bags in Mogadishu--which was a day's drive away. One woman stuffed his hand full of cash, after hearing that the bags cost about two dollars each. "That's nice," he said. "And, I'll keep your money. The problem is that I don't know if there are any transfusion bags to buy, but thank you."

Hearing this on the heels of my coworkers' account of their delivery, which required more transfusions than he could count, reminded me not only of our luck, but that, whenever possible, we need to share our good fortune with those who aren't so lucky.

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