Giving Head

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Warning: There are countless horrible things physicians encounter as a resident. The following is a particularly disturbing episode involving a stillbirth that you may not want to read. I have changed certain details to maintain privacy.

I had a list, once.

It was a list of things that I wanted to experience and treat as a resident when I would have backup and could ask for help. Things that I wanted to learn how to handle there rather than out in the “real world”.

One was a still birth.

So, one afternoon in my second year, sure enough, a young woman showed up at labor and delivery. Her baby had stopped moving a few days before she said and she was cramping a bit, in early labor.

There was no heartbeat on the Doppler or on the ultrasound. She had been about 27 weeks gestation we estimated.

It was awful telling this young mother that not only had she lost her first baby, but she was going to have to deliver the body. The baby’s father was out of the picture and she had no family in the area. She didn’t want me to call any friends or let anyone know. She intended to go through this by herself.

She also had not really had prenatal care and the hospital anesthesiologists had a barbaric policy at the time that only those who had prenatal care could have an epidural. No matter what. So as we started the pitocin to move her labor along, she had no pain management. Periodically I would hear her cry out in pain. We gave her Demerol, but that was never terribly helpful for anyone, really. I tried to stay with her, but really what she wanted, she said, was to just be left alone. She was grieving so I gave her privacy.

The baby was in breech presentation, so when I called the OB attending (he was not employed by the residency but was rather a private physician in the community who helped out covering OB call periodically) to notify him of the fetal demise and to ask if there was anything I needed to know, anything to expect in case there were any problems, he laughed. “Look, breech is a concern if you are delivering a live baby. Don’t worry about this.”

Hours passed.

At some point the woman started to feel the urge to push but did not tell anyone. Instead she had gotten up to use the bathroom thinking she needed to have a BM. Suddenly I heard terrified screams and sobs from her room. Two nurses and I rushed in. Lying between her legs in the toilet was a body without a head.

That’s right. No head.

While I got her back into the bed, one of the nurses fished the body out of the commode. I did an exam and no head could be found vaginally. A bedside ultrasound confirmed it was still in the uterus along with the placenta. The baby had likely been dead longer than she or anyone had expected and the tissues were friable.

I called the attending in a panic. He started laughing. Laughing! “Girl, I need for you to give me head…” More snickering from him.

Yes. The bastard was making jokes about me performing fellatio on him because of a decapitated baby.

Still, I had to play nice because I needed for him to tell me what to do next.

I hated him. I hated myself. I hated God. I hated that hospital. I hated being a woman.

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102 thoughts on “Giving Head

  1. OMG! I didn’t think that could happen (the decapitation). A friend of mine had something similar happen. She had to deliver a dead baby and it was awful but the procedure wasn’t as awful as this. For some reason she couldn’t get it induced right away which is what she wanted but she had to wait some length of time for some reason that I don’t remember. This doctor was heartless.

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  2. This is, without a doubt, one of the worst things I’ve read since I’ve started blogging. I can’t imagine how difficult that must have been for you to write, let alone experience. Your strength is more than admirable, it’s inspiring.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. How awful for the mother and for you. Why do people make hideous jokes at the worst of times. They are never funny. The heartless bastard.
    I wonder in the future, way into the future, if we will be able experience another person’s experience so that we can advise, empathise and be the best that we can to ease the suffering, cure or soothe the malady. Virtual reality experiences as such so that when reality hits we are better equipped.
    When you are asked on a scale of 1-10 what level of pain are you feeling you can answer with the same scale, for example. Then again we are all different and react differently to medicine, stress,….
    I wonder what the future looks like?

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  4. Wow, that’s awful. That poor young woman must have that emblazoned in her mind. I’m glad that crass doctor wasn’t the one in the room with her. With my last child the nurses and I actually threw the doctor out of the room and the nurse finished up with my baby. That doc was ten kinds of crazy.

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      • She wanted non-allergenic gloves and someone forgot to put them in the room so she wanted the nurses to hold my legs together to keep the baby in until her gloves arrived. When the nurses refused, protesting the danger to me and the baby, she forcibly pushed my legs together herself. We all began to yell at her and one of the nurses grabbed her shoulders and struggled with her. The gloves arrived she let go of my legs the baby popped out and she didn’t quite catch her because she was putting on her gloves so she dropped my daughter. Thankfully I was having a full bed delivery so the baby only dropped to the mattress instead of the floor.
        Then she wanted to pull out the placenta because it was Christmas eve and she needed to leave right away so had no time to wait. I told her if she touched me again I would rip her head off and the nurses screamed at her to get out and one of them physically pushed her out of the door.
        Thankfully I had very competent nurses who took care of my baby and allowed the placenta to deliver naturally then stitched up the damage done from lack of episiotomy and so all was ok. As soon as I could stand up I checked myself and my baby out of that hospital and went home. I ended up with her as my doctor because my doctor was out of town for the holidays.

        Liked by 1 person

      • My daughter will be 17 this December. The doctor was young, allergic to latex, and I believe, totally unqualified to be delivering a baby on her own. I think her superiors put her, too soon into a roll that she was ill equipped to handle, she lacked the humility to listen to me even though this was my 7th childbirth or even the experienced delivery staff. She simply panicked and fell apart. My doctor, who was also a friend of ours, apologized and admitted that he had known she wasn’t quite ready but was confident that between my experience giving birth and the older nurses experience delivering that this doctor would have been OK. He hadn’t counted on her cocky refusal to listen to any of us.
        I heard later that three infants had died at birth in separate incidents under her care, then I heard she had dropped the delivery part of her care voluntarily and was only doing office work. I think she made a wise choice.

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  5. OH DEAR GOD! I don’t think I would have been able to restrain myself from punching that male pig! This is enraging! You poor woman! How wrong this world is and how wrong what some doctors do. I KNOW. I am an RN! You have NO idea how much I want to just HUG you right now. In the flesh! The bastard! I usually don’t talk like this, but your post honestly put tears in my eyes and my Martial Arts leg wanted to kick and land a good solid kick where it counts. Way not like LadyPinkRose, but darn it, I am a woman who has been subjected to men like this doctor, both professionally and personally. I will contain myself here and NOT say the rest of what I would like to. (((HUGS))) Amy

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  6. I finished reading this post three minutes ago and am still trying to pick my jaw up from the floor.
    I don’t know if enough people tell you this: Thank you. Thank you for not quitting the profession. Thank you for having the courage to share your stories. And, Thank you for being you because you come across as someone with compassion, integrity, and the humility to always put the patient first.

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  7. I understand that there is a certain degree of desensitization being a doctor, but that male doctor’s attitude and utter disrespect for you was atrocious. And to think he was treating patients.

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  8. I am a nurse. The story is terrible but it is not the only one I have heard. I worked most of my career as a psych nurse. My mind goes to the mother and her state of mind. She could develop PTSD from this trauma. So sad. You, dear friend, have discovered misogyny in your work place. The attending committed sexual harassment in the workplace. I have to call a duck a duck. This is so far from not funny. He was disrespectful to you. I am sorry you had to deal with all of this. Harmony and light, Barbara

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  9. You are amazing… My heart and admiration go out to you and my heart to that young lady.. what an interesting story even if it is somewhat heart breaking and on the other side crude. Thank you for being you and helping all those many that you do!

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  10. That sounds horrible…poor woman. I guess some folks deal with things in different ways, and unfortunately low humour was that person’s way. Thank you for sharing this. This will stay with me for some time.

    Paul

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    • He was a true mysoginist. A truly evil man who treated the most vulnerable women deplorably. Fortunately these guys are not rampant. They just creat a disproportionate amount of grief. Thanks for reading.

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  11. Your story was so powerful and horrifying. Having gone through Family Medicine residency training over 14 years ago, I often wondered what had happened to the robotic attending physicians, as in your post, for them to behave the way they did. How did they land in medicine when empathy and compassion are the cornerstone to good patient care? Did they start out with the best intentions but were beaten down by other attendings and the system along the way?

    As a fellow physician blogger I am so pleased that I just came across your blog. Writing about our experiences and life is so important.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sometimes compassion does not require smothering. We all have times that we are reachable. Her time was not that day. It is hardest to have suffering treated flippantly by others, as it denigrates that human being. That was what was most upsetting. Not the joking with me because of me, though that was uncomfortable and out of line, it was the neglect of that patient and her suffering, the refusal to acknowledge it that upset me most.

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  12. I had a very similar experience during residency. I had a fetal demise and the woman was bleeding to death, so we had to get the baby out fast and similar things happened… afterwards I was sick, but one of the nurses asked me, “how does it feel to be a baby killer?” even though the baby was already dead.

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  13. What an awful experience both for her as a mother and you as a new doctor, especially having to deal with a jerk advisor. It only makes you stronger and more knowledgeable as a woman nothing less like he is inappropriately suggesting.

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  14. As I read this it took me back to the birth of my second daughter’s birth. She was born breach so it was a hard delivery for my then wife. We only had her in our lives for ten months but it was enough, she was a sweet spirit. I still remember the look on the doctor’s face when she was born, he quickly handed her to a nurse and left the room. Agony and pain followed.
    It also took me to a point in time when I heard my brother who was a paramedic at the time talk about how he had to literally scrap a dead body off the floor of a trailer that had burnt down. He’s comments to me were so crass, but I didn’t understand at the time just how much it must have hurt inside of him to perform such a task. It took awhile but I later understood it was his way of dealing with things.
    The recalling of these events leads me to believe we all grieve but show it in different ways. I must admit my heart breaks for the mother, I agonize for those who don’t understand and pray for those who need a touch from God. It’s the only thing that can get us through this process we call “life”.

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  15. Sometimes black humour is the only thing that keeps us going, but that was terrible. I must say luckily during my training I never experienced anything quite like that. Although…

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    • Black humor, absolutely. This guy wasn’t trying to cope with anything, though. He was a well known jerk. I have no doubt that you probably experienced plenty that was just as unpleasant if not worse!

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  16. How tragic for all of you, but especially the mother.
    I wanted to stop by and thank you for visiting my site today and liking the post about me being the featured luminary tomorrow on InspireMeToday.com
    I hope you will go to the website in the morning and read my essay and then share it with your followers.
    I also hope to see you again on my site in the future.
    I am excited to check out your site and read more of your writing.
    Have a really great evening.

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  17. The jerk was in a position to supervise you, yet you knew so much more than he did. Thank you for doing your work the way it should be done, with compassion and emotional intelligence along with clinical intelligence. Your story reminds me of how 16 weeks into my second pregnancy, I’d been cramping a little, got up to go to the bathroom, and felt my body pushing before I realized what was happening. No where near as traumatic and horrible as what you experienced, but I’ll never forget that urge to push and thinking “Oh no, please….no.” It was over 20 years ago. Now, I’m praying for the woman who was in your good care who lost her baby. Imagining loving arms wrapped around her and you, if only I could go back in time to comfort you both. I am so thankful you were there for her. And thankful that there are many more good doctors and nurses than bad ones.

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  18. Wow, this post of yours Was Profound To Read!

    I just felt terrible for that poor young woman.

    The baby in her was dead and also was decaying for who knows how long 😦

    That poor baby…

    ….it’s head separated from its body.

    Reading this just made me feel that baby’s death

    You write beautifully.

    Also that poor girl just didn’t tell anyone!

    That isolation she chose probably made her depressed.

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  19. Pingback: Are Doctors Worth Their Salaries? | Behind the White Coat

  20. I’ve been staring at this comment box for a good five minutes now. I just don’t know what it is. After all, with the crap of seen in my own life, it probably shouldn’t affect me like this, but every time I read about some jerk like that Doctor saying something like he said, and thinking it was funny, I’m just completely stuck for words. But at least you know I read what you write, and I appreciate the effort you put into it, I know it couldn’t of been easy. Maybe I’ll be able to comment on the next thing you write.

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  21. Some people are just assholes, sorry just feel like it’s not worth mincing words. Just pray that the woman at some point in time in the future was able to have children. Do you ever feel a hardness in your heart towards people like that?

    Liked by 1 person

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