The birth of a baby
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO HAVE BEEN BORN AT A HOSPITAL IN SRINAGAR, WRITES BURHAN DHAR
Memories take you back to the past. I was recently taken for a ride into six years behind time. This time I happen to revisit the day my first daughter was born. The whole thing happened in a very comfortable well equipped room of the hospital located in the heart of Los Angeles. As this event unfolded, I could not help but notice the presence of several hospital staff members wearing scrubs and taking their positions. My gut feeling was that they were there to give their friends company, until all of them positioned themselves like fielders in a cricket match. It wasn’t long until I realized they were all part of the child delivery team. This team comprised a gynecologist, highly experienced nurse two of her assistants, a respiratory therapist and few more task specific members. Witnessing this miraculous moment, I also realized the coordinated movement of team starting from birth to ceremonious cutting of umbilical cord and washing and cleaning of skin of baby skin. It was no wonder that baby did not have a grin on her face. After all she received a royal welcome into this world. Henceforth the periodic trips to pediatricians, preventive vaccines and preemptive intervention of many infections have made growing up a very nice experience.
Revisiting the experience captured time and again, I cannot help but think that our next generation is a lot more blessed than us and the one before, who were born at home. Things have certainly come a long way since my birth at SMHS hospital in the heart of city. Many a time I would visit a relative in Lal Ded Hospital to congratulate them for their new arrival. The joy would always double when they would be relieved from the hospital. It was almost like feeling of triumph for making it alive out of that hospital. The scenes of gas stoves in the corridor, countless people always looking lost and finally finding your relative as one of the two patients occupying a single hospital cart with new born besides them. If you greet your relative you were also greeting two feet sticking in her face. However I don’t believe those two extra feet were source of their distress while at hospital. The biggest worry was that of predatory rats which appeared as if their space was invaded and occupied illegally by mankind. They behaved as if they had the sole rights to hospital premises. In the mean time they would target newborn in the dark and in light for a light or heavy feast. Many pictures from archives can be retrieved or revisited showing the killer rats. These rats were not shy and posed for cameras with an ever so familiar grin. Dogs in the neighborhood were relatively organized. They did not meddle with joy of having an addition to the family. They would wait till the ill fated babies were buried in nearby cemetery. With their meticulous timing they would then dig up the grave for a feast. They would leave behind white cotton cloth and some barely formed mutilated bones as a trophy. This tradition was well documented in the local newspapers. However it never seemed to shake anything other than the page of the newspaper while turning for next one. What would last as a memory for couple of days, was the reports of deliberate exchange of babies by helpers in the hospital ward. Since all babies are born pretty, the ward helper who was affectionately known as Massa played God and distributed boys and girls at will. If a person in Sopore wonders why he has a clone in Bandipora, there may be reason for it. It may be due to “Massa Effect”. This free exchange of boys and girls was done for few hundred rupees. Whether you saw the doctor present or not, you had to be on the good side of Massa. She was the queen of delivery room even ordering fresh residents who had limited experience with delivering babies, leave alone complications. If she liked you, there was a better chance of survival and God forbid if she hated you, you would go home with bruises and possibly a girl child. The going rate for cleaning baby’s skin post birth was Rs 50 for a girl and Rs 100 for a boy . That made you a perfect target. If you paid fifty, there is no way Massa would hand you over a boy. Alright maybe it did not happen so often but we know it was prevalent in the hospital at some point. Senior doctors were nonexistent most of the time. If you were not a relative or rich and connected, you would not see their sight. Anytime even if they entered the ward, they would be accompanied by two well built men or women. Everybody would stand up and line up as if a guard of honor was on course. The only thing missing was the red carpet. It would get stuck to broken down mud floor anyway. Relatives were ordered to stay away in the corridor and watch the proceedings from a distance. From that distance all you could see was the doctor examining the patients. If you did not know better it would seem as if the doctor was using stethoscope on the foot. It would take a moment to realize there is a life breathing next to that foot. It did not seem to matter to many as the smell of phenyl would sedate patients and visitors alike.
Back in Los Angeles when the baby was cleaned and found fit, both patient and the baby were moved to resting suite. Each suite had an extra bed for new father or a chair that would unfold into a bed. A nurse would come every hour to check on mother and the baby. When night falls, a big jug of cranberry juice accompanies a healthy dinner. Father can dig in if he likes. Given that we are natives of Kashmir we had made arrangements for Chicken soup and “Nun chai” in advance as is the tradition. When all friends leave and the cart are ready to be unfolded a nurse would appear and offer to take baby to nursery for the night. This is done to relieve new parents and allow them a full night’s sleep. The nursery is surrounded by glass walls where you can see from all angles what your baby is doing. You can also see the nurses caring for them every time they wet their diaper or feel hungry. In the morning baby is reunited with the parents. A nurse goes through step by step process of training parents about proper way of holding bottle or changing diapers. Next, a pediatrician visits and after thorough check up she lectures the parents about to do and not to do list. The date for next appointment is immediately fixed. This is when the fun part of registering a name begins. You are required to have a name ready before you leave hospital. This privilege is given to their parents only without the influences from Mom’s side or Dad’s side of the family. Therefore conflicts are avoided and an agreement is reached in hours as compared to months when cease fire takes place between two families. Finally the day of parting with the ‘hospital family’ arrives with some nervousness. You feel safe with them around. They pack you ample bottles of baby milk, diapers and a car seat for your car. Mother, father and baby are always wearing a computer printed wrist band which is often checked when you take baby out of nursery. This is to prevent the “Massa Effect” where an Asian baby would suddenly appear Caucasian. After ample good bye from the staff, the mother is loaded on to a wheel chair with baby in her arms. This privilege can be given to father as long as he is willing to sit in the wheelchair. The reason for the wheelchair is for the hospital to ensure that you do not slip and trip with baby in your arms within their premises. A nurse would accompany you outside until she demonstrates the use of car seat, in case you don’t know. From there onwards you are on your own. The joy of leaving Lal Ded is missing while leaving Hospital in Los Angeles. It is the absence of “Massa Effect”, Rat infestation, Stinky feet in your face that spoil joy of going home. The warmth of caring nurses, comfort of next door nursery and comfortable rooms with cable TV showing basketball and Golf make it almost painful to go home. Now years down the line when I think about it, I realize that there was not much difference in the process of bringing a baby to this world, nor was there any specialized equipment involved. The difference was in the attitude of the people involved and in the customer service. For a meager price all such things can be made available anywhere but then one will risk losing joy of going home and not to mention unleashing wrath of ever so young “MASSA”.
(Burhan Dhar is Head of the Department King Faisal Hospital & Research Center)
Lastupdate on : Fri, 29 Apr 2011 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Fri, 29 Apr 2011 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sat, 30 Apr 2011 00:00:00 IST
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