Getting Intense

I’m still reeling from today. Amelia and I got to see a much anticipated c-section. Waiting for the procedure to begin, I focused on deep breathing and preparing myself for a lot of blood and gore; to be honest I think I was more nervous than the soon-to-be mother, a 22 year old woman that for confidentiality reasons I’ll refer to here as Emma.


Pre-op: so excited to finally see a c-section!

The actual operation was simple and quick, with a manageable amount of blood. It was the epidural that killed me, and almost killed Emma… Reflecting back on the situation, this may be a bit of an exaggeration, but while in the theater watching the nurses struggle with the epidural and the general anesthesia, Amelia and I were both convinced that Emma was going to die.

In Ghana, there is a shortage of doctors. At the hospital where I volunteer there are only 6; the majority of the work, including giving anesthesia, is done by nurses. In the theater today, three different nurses were attempting to give Emma an epidural. They stabbed her with a long needle, trying to find the correct nerve, for over 15 minutes.

Those 15 minutes felt like eternity. Emma was screaming in pain and the nurses were yelling at her to stop moving. I thought I was going to start crying or pass out. After they had missed the nerve for the 6th time, I went over to Emma, grabbed both her hands and told her to squeeze whenever it hurt. To be honest, this was as much for her benefit as it was for mine. I could not handle watching her in so much pain, with no one to comfort her, and not do anything.

After over 15 tries, the nurses finally go the epidural in the right spot. I began to relax, when all of a sudden something started going wrong with the general anesthesia. I’m still not exactly sure how or why it happened, but the nurses gave Emma too much nitrous oxide (laughing gas). She stopped responding, and I was positive they had killed her.

The nurses began to panic as well and rapidly stuck a breathing tube down her throat. They quickly realized this was a bad idea, since she still had a gag reflex, and immediately discarded it. Somehow, Emma finally started responding and I, in turn, began breathing again.

The cesarean itself went smoothly and I wasn’t too phased by the blood or by the surgery (this was the first surgery I’ve seen), since Emma was definitely alive, but numb to any pain. Another moment of panic occurred, however, when the doctor pulled the baby out. Wrapped in the umbilical cord, he was blue and not crying. After about 3 seconds of sheer terror, he gave a small whimper. I don’t think I have ever felt such a rollercoaster of panic followed by relief as I did in the 30 minutes leading up to the birth.

Once I had recovered from the fear of a still birth, I was able to appreciate the rest of the surgery. The doctor had pulled the uterus out onto Emma’s stomach and was carefully cleaning it out. He then stitched it up, put in back inside her and sewed up her abdomen.

After the surgery was over, I insisted on staying with Emma until she was safely taken back to the maternity ward. I was still terrified that something awful would happen to her, even though the procedure had been successfully completed. I’m going to go check in on her tomorrow, but I’m pretty positive that she is recovering well and enjoying the presence of her healthy baby boy.


Post-op: feeling a bit traumatized