Sunday, March 4, 2007


Where do I start? The scrubs, I guess. Pale green, the top was sleeveless and the bottoms tapered and were a few inches too short. A classy look, for sure.

The morning field trip was to Hospital San Felipe in Teguz. The scrubs were loaners from the Peace Corps so that I could witness a live birth in the maternity ward. There was only space for 10 people to go (in two groups of 5) and I wasn’t going to let the scrubs stop me.

We drove down in our Peace Corps-mobiles (white Toyota land cruisers that ferry people and supplies between PCHQ in Teguz and the training center in Santa Lucía). Rush hour here is not a good time to be on the road. At one point we spend half an hour choking on exhaust fumes without advancing even half a mile.

Finally we arrive, driving in through the back entrance to the hospital. We walk through the hospital, and I'm struck by how old it looks. There are gurneys and beds in the hall that must be twice my age. I ask and am told that the hospital was built in 1926, making it the oldest hospital in the city and probably the oldest in the country.

First we get a presentation from the subdirectora of the hospital. She presented at length the organizational structure of the Secretaría de Salud, and of the hospital. We asked questions about how the hospital deals with HIV/AIDS patients. The hospital offers testing but has no AIDS ward. HIV+ and AIDS patients are referred to two other hospitals in the city.

After the presentation, we get a very lengthy tour of the hospital. We are handed off to an obstetrician at the maternity ward. He gives us a lengthy talk about the maternity ward, which is a relatively recent addition (8 years old). They're one of the most popular birthing centers in the capital. They have the capacity to facilitate up to 60 births in 24 hours, but on average operate at about 30-35 births per 24 hours. Most of their patients are between 15 and 30 years old. It's uncommon, he tells us, to have girls 11 and 12 years old giving birth, but not unheard of. 13-year-olds don't even surprise the doctors.

We tour the puerperios (post-partum rooms), where women stay with their babies after given birth. They're required to stay at least 12 hours, but not allowed to stay more than 24 unless there were complications. The doctor tells us that most women leave as soon as possible since they usually have more kids waiting at home. The puerperios are long halls, with single beds sticking out perpendicular from the walls every 8 feet or so. Many of the beds are filled with mothers nursing their newborns.

Those of us wearing scrubs are broken into two groups. I'm in the first. We follow the doctor into the labor room, which is filled with at least a dozen beds. It's silent, and at first we think the room is empty. But the silence is promptly broken by one of the two women in the far corner, crying out with their labor pains.

We watch the two women, alone on their hospital beds, IV pumps beeping occasionally at their sides. Nurses stop by from time to time to listen to their bellies with a stethoscope. Neither of the women are about to give birth, so the doctor takes us the see the birthing rooms, which are adjacent.

One of the two rooms is occupied by a woman and a doctor. The woman has already given birth, and now is getting stitches. The five of us watch. My colleagues (all female) swear they'll never have children.

We return to the labor room to wait. If either of the women in this room becomes dilated enough, we can watch them give birth. But it doesn't look like that will be the case. The doctor talks with the nurses about the politics of purchasing additional IV pumps. I ask him if the women are allowed to walk around. He says they are, until their water breaks. Then he gives us a demonstration, using his curled index finger to represent a cervix, of how to measure dilation.

It's been over half an hour, and we need to get going. Before we go, the doctor goes and checks the dilation on one of the women. "Parto," he says calmly. Birth. We're going to get to see one after all. The woman is wheeled to a birthing room and put into stirrups. The nurses begin to wash her. The doctor is talking to us nonchalantly. The woman is crying with her contractions.

Suddenly the thought -and with the thought, a cascade of images- enters my mind. I think the woman might tear when the baby comes out. And then I think of my own flesh tearing, from the inside out. Maybe they'll cut her to avoid it. And I think of being cut myself, of skin being separated by stainless steel. I'm hot. Dots swim in my vision. I ask to use the bathroom.

The doctor escorts me out by the arm. "Esta mareado?" Are you dizzy? "Si." Yes. "Acuestase aqui." Lie down here. I lie down on a gurney outside. I am hot and cold and sweating profusely.

I feel better within seconds. Perhaps I can go back in and watch. But already I can hear the sounds of a baby. The birth must have taken a minute or less. Shortly, a nurse walks by with a little pinkish baby wrapped in a blanket. My colleagues and the doctor emerge, asking how I am. "Es muy pálido." You're very pale. Perhaps, but I'm fine now. Just disappointed and embarrassed. And relieved to have control over my senses once again.

The whole school knows my story within hours of our return. It's to be expected, and I can laugh about it. Perhaps in the next two years, another opportunity will arise. Practice makes perfect.


Talia said...


Are you still using hampshire mail? I sent you an email response to your blog there, but is it better for you if I just post it here?

Anonymous said...

Say, you just about fainted. I have mucho experience with the phenomenon... though not at births, and I've been to two, or one and a half... But more on that later, when I write you. And major kudos to you for following through with this.