Day 14

Today was the definition of “hurry up and wait”. The maternity staff always rotates and one staff works Monday, Tuesday, Friday while the other does Wednesday and Thursday. Today, we had the staff who lets us do all the deliveries but not much of the paperwork. Unfortunately, nobody was in labor so it ended up being a pretty slow day. This would’ve been fine if I had a book or something but my silly self brought a book where I only had 20 pages left and finished it during the ride to the clinic. Side note– the book was “Sorority” by Genevieve Sly Crane… there wasn’t really a plot it was more of a fictional exposé so it was fun to read and felt low-key trashy but the quality writing was incredible? 7/10, would still recommend. Anyways, I was left to my thoughts and my Candy Crush but it was a wonderful day nonetheless. One of the Mercer interns left last week for a family emergency and another one arrived today so we had fun getting to know her and just hang out together.

However, after a very slow morning we decided we needed to do something. I ended up heading over to the dentistry unit to see if they’d let me observe. Luckily, a (particularly beautiful) dentist let me watch him do lots of tooth extractions. Though I’m fine with blood/other medical procedures, something about cracking teeth and dental tools has always given me a fright. I stayed for about an hour, watching children and adults alike with tooth pain get numbing shots then having every painful tooth removed. He said about 95% of patients come here for extractions with the other 5% being “patches” (cavity fillings) and cleanings (rare). As interesting as this process was, I scooted out after about an hour.

After we returned for lunch, a mother went into serious labor around 1:30. This woman had been sitting on a bed for a while but, as she told me, “I’m trying to push but only the poo poo is coming out!” Disclaimer for anybody who has not yet given birth/is nervous about it: 90% of women poop in labor so when it happens to you, know you are NOT alone (in fact, you’re normal). This same woman kept wanting me to clean it up for her but didn’t know my name so she continually shouted “White Woman!” every five minutes for an hour. It has become my new identity within the clinic. She begged me for an “operation” saying that she didn’t want to push anymore but, unfortunately, that’s not an option at our clinic.

After some more consoling and even more “White Woman” calls, she was ready to push and I could feel the baby’s head. However, she was only about 5cm dilated and the possibility of a baby coming out seemed nearly impossible from an outsider’s perspective. The sister-on-staff told us to go for it and get her pushing so we set up around her: Nikki lifting the head and shoulders, Skylar on the abdomen pressure to push the baby down, and me on the pulling/catching side with Madison (new intern) watching from the sideline. After a few pushes and a lot of stretching, the baby was out and breathing (and mama only needed 1 stitch!). It cried for about 10 seconds before going silent which meant we had to start hitting/flicking it to keep it crying (and, therefore, alive). This baby was alert, looking around, and clearly breathing, but it just didn’t need to cry. It was precious. After cleaning him off and weighing him, I got to hold him for 15 minutes while the others dealt with the mother/cord/placenta. Highlight of the day, for sure– he was biting his fingers, staring at me, and sticking his tongue out like a pro.

We headed out to the parking lot as soon as we got ourselves cleaned up (baby fluid/blood literally goes everywhere) and hopped onto our shuttle where the driver, Luvo, immediately asked “how many babies?” He’s the best. I headed home, hit the gym, then went out to dinner with some new friends from the Safari before jumping into my glorious bed. Tess (roommate) is living out in Franschhoek in her boss’ guest house so that they can work every day for a week (it takes him an hour to really get into Cape Town so they don’t get to work much) and I’m a little bit lonely but it’s nice to have some space for the first time in a while. One Mad Men episode in and I can already feel myself fading so it’s time to peace out. The Xhosa word of the day is “remove” as in a tooth: khupha.

Day 9

WOW, today was crazy. During my last week in the maternity ward, there have been an average of 2-3 births per day. Today, however, SEVEN BABIES were born! Seven! Our first task this morning was to take the blood pressure of all of the mothers-in-waiting. Not only did they fill the chairs but they also had to be hoisted onto some extra beds in the post-natal area… these mamas were all about to pop. Around 8:30, one of the sisters handed Nikki and me a pair of sterile gloves and said “When this baby comes out, you’re the ones who are catching it.” In that moment, I knew today would be something special.

As the day continued and the three other Mercer interns arrived, the five of us were very lucky to directly assist the nurses and play a large role in some of the births. While the nurses were always on-hand to assist us when we needed help or guidance, they are so excited about the prospect of teaching us how to do what they do which has been really fun. After just a week of watching deliveries, we were literally elbows deep, doing things you wouldn’t dream of doing in America until you were at least halfway through Medical School. From pep talks to the mothers all the way to writing the birth certificates, we were hands on at every step today. This was a huge turning point for my ~adventure~ so far in South Africa and the first time I could really see myself pursuing a career as an Obstetrician… a fun thought!

Obviously, this post would not be complete without talking about the wonderful mothers who let students talk them through / deliver their babies. They were extraordinarily welcoming and agreed with the nurses when it came to promoting learning. They were excited that we were helping them and getting something out of it as well. The mothers today were also the most social of any day so far. They laughed and talked with us about how they would “never again” have a child even though the midwife claimed she’d see them “on the same bed this time next year”. Also, because many women here don’t have ultrasounds before giving birth, some were happier than others about the gender of their babies. One mother was disappointed it was a girl because “I already have one of those and don’t want to try again” lol. Being the person to hand them a newborn and see their reaction as they find their own resemblance in a little one is like nothing else. Being a part of such an important moment for mother and child (their birthday!) and guiding them through an extremely scary and vulnerable time is what is so appealing to me about OB/GYN. I feel like it would never get old.

After work, I went with a group of Connectors to Bo-Kaap Kombuis in the historic (and beautiful!) neighborhood of Bo-Kaap nestled right below Lion’s Head. This restaurant offered a fantastic view and a delicious buffet-style selection of Cape Malay food. The Cape Malays are a South African ethnic group originally from the Dutch East Indies, brought to the Cape when it was settled as a Dutch colony. The menu included lots of curry, rooti, rice, and various meat pastries (samoosas). Absolutely delectable and yet another restaurant that I would highly recommend. Xhosa word of the day is “boy”, the gender one mother wanted her little girl to be: nkwenkwe.