Pregnancy and Tolerance
Kamala is a pregnant mother. A slim and fair-looking woman. She looks tidy in her nightgown. The spring has begun. Deep in the fold of the evening, Kamala is feeling a pain similar to extreme menstrual cramps and she says that it looks like she is being run over by a train. The hospital building is dilapidated and the paint from the labour room wall is weathering away. Ancient ceiling fans are producing a creaky sound. Echoes of the three staff nurses chit-chatting are audible while a cleaner mops the floor.
Kamala lies tranquil on the iron table but with an occasional groan. The iron table is cold and hard. The table beside Kamala is empty, with blood on the sheet which tells a story of the previous delivery.
One of the three staff nurses completes her check-up.
- “Still a long time.”, she says.
- “Sister, I can’t take it anymore.”, Kamala screams.
- “Shut your mouth and bear the pain, every woman has to go through this pain.”, the staff nurse screams.
It has been a long and agonizing wait for Kamala. She is quieted by extreme exhaustion and fear. She has no choice but to sit on the floor since the hospital did not have any beds for her.
As I speak to other mothers (who had delivered last night) and their families, they speak prudently of adequate medical attention and when I probe in more, asking if they had been shouted at, not provided a bed and a labour check-up, a few of them said “That is how it is, isn’t it?’’ One woman abruptly said
“We are treated like cattle here. We treat our cattle more affectionately.”
The stories of giving birth in public hospitals are horrendous. An article reports the abuse faced by pregnant women in public hospitals where they are slapped, and forced to deliver on the floor and clean their mess.
In 1977, World Health Assembly introduced a movement called “Health For All”. This doesn’t mean an end to a disease or a disability. It means that healthcare should be evenly distributed to all, no matter if they are rich or poor.
Even after 4 decades of this movement, I still wonder, “Is healthcare really for all?’’
9 Hours Later
Another male staff nurse is on duty and he checks Kamala again.
- “It is time.”, he says to Rama who is a cleaner.
Rama calls another male staff nurse. She pulls up a small step ladder, climbs up and starts pushing down on Kamala’s stomach with both her hands.
Kamala sits up in pain.
- “Lie down and tolerate.”, woofs Rama.
Sensing my anger at her behaviour, she mellows down and says “We have to push for her since she is not pushing and creating trouble. The lady who delivered previously was more cooperative.” The other nurse brings a tray of surgical instruments and some injections.
Blood is dripping on the floor. “Can you see the baby’s head?” One of the staff nurses points to it while he giggles. Kamala screams as she is unable to tolerate the pain, her eyes are closing and her face is beaded with sweat.
One of the nurses takes the baby to the warmer which is kept in the corner of the room. A bloodied and flashy huge mass, almost the size of the baby slips and Kamala begins to shiver. An injection is given and the vaginal cut is stitched.
In a couple of minutes, the labour room is silent again. 1 Hour Later
- “Congratulations Kamala, you have given birth to a beautiful baby girl.”, I said.
Kamala seems delighted with my compliment.
I ask her about her childbirth experience in this hospital. Tears roll down her cheeks and she says, “They were nice but they did not believe that I had pain and they disregarded me.”
- “Do you remember that?” I ask.
- “Everything,” she says.
The general perception is that the staff nurses in Indian public hospitals are overburdened and hence they end up mistreating the patients. But the fact is, the day Kamala went through the delivery, there were only 3 pregnant mothers and only she was giving birth to a child at that time. There were 2 staff nurses available for her childbirth.
According to me, the treatment provided to Kamala was unfair and unethical. It left me speechless. This was one of many such experiences that I have come across. Most of the mothers go through a similar experience at many Indian public hospitals. How many women will undergo this type of violence and lose their rights over their bodies?
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