Friday, 6 May 2011


Yesterday was one of those busy days at Bwaila. Most of my time now is spent supervising the student midwives on Labour Ward, ensuring that they understand what they are doing that they become skilled at recognizing when things are going wrong not just ‘catching’ babies as they ‘pop out’ nor focusing only achieving numbers to fill up their books. Although we are now a District Unit and our most serious high risk women will be transferred to the new unit at the Central Hospital we continue to receive and care for many high risk situations. This is inevitable due to the huge number of women and babies we are attending and the fact that they are the most poor and disadvantaged Malawian women with all their underlying health problems. The day started badly when I realized that the women whose HIV status was unknown could not be tested due to the fact that no kits were available. This is a totally unacceptable situation in the light of the funds that are pouring into the country specifically aimed at preventing Mother to Child transmission. I took time out to visit the DHO in his offices next door. I found him in a meeting discussing the pharmacy issues. This was just what I needed. I interrupted the meeting to request that they please discuss this especially as we are approaching Easter. If this was not sorted out immediately we would be passing the whole Easter weekend in the same situation. What would become of those women? What would become of those babies? I was informed that this was a country wide problem but, as usual, mostly affecting the public hospitals…once more the private hospitals had their own supplies, once more the rich would win!
Since early morning I had been especially caring for a very young 18year old mother whose labour was progressing extremely slowly. When I took her over from the night staff I was told that she was ’hysterical and uncooperative’. She had been rolling on the floor in pain, had removed her IV line and was ‘totally uncontrollable.’ She was young and alone and very frightened. After assessing her situation I decided to administer Pethidine ( a strong pain killer) and instructed one of the students to take over her care to gain her trust and therefore her cooperation. As the drug began to work she became calm and sleepy, ceasing to cry out in pain with every contraction and rested on the bed. This new situation allowed me to then administer hormones to increase her contractions and therefore speed up her already prolonged labour. This she tolerated well .I would not leave until her baby was born. Slowly but surely her baby descended and her cervix opened to allow him to pass through. Once the baby was well down in the pelvis I took a vacuum extraction cup and with the help of the young student midwife who had gained her trust I slowly guided her baby into this world. It was wonderful teaching situation not only in the skills of assisting in the more difficult situations but how to really ‘care’ for women.

We only have one ambulance at Bwaila. At present it is in the workshop being repaired after an accident so we are managing as best we can with totally unsuitable vehicles.
It was nearly 4pm when Kristine arrived on labour ward. She had been found in her hut in the village by some neighboring women. She had delivered her first baby totally alone .Kristine was 18 years old. The first thing that I noticed was that she was extremely ‘pale’ with a very high fever. That might seem strange to you. How can a black skinned person be pale? Well she can, and she was,’ pale.’ It feels good to be able to recognize this now! Reading her health passport from the two antenatal visits I found that she had been diagnosed with severe anemia over one month ago and had not been treated or transfused. She was weak but conscious and coherent. She was not actively bleeding but I had no way of knowing how much blood she had lost before arrival. With the help of one of my students we quickly erected IV lines took blood samples and sent them to the laboratory. It was her lucky day..…One pack of blood was available. We started to transfuse. She badly needed IV antibiotics, but we had none. After inspection it became clear that some parts of placenta were still in her uterus. This would continue to be a high risk situation for her until they were removed. We had no doctor that day and it was now 4.30pm. We decided that, once stabilized, she should be referred to the Central Hospital. Any blood loss now could prove fatal for her. I called for the ambulance only to find that it would not be available for at least 2 hours. Could Kristine wait for two hours? I decided to take her myself. I put down the back seats, covered the carpets with plastic and assisted Kristine, two IV lines, blood transfusion, two guardians, her baby (1.6kgs.) a bundle of firewood, plastic basins and cooking pots into my Honda CRV. We arrived safely. The next day I heard they had found one more bag of blood for her and she was doing well.

Agness gave birth to the first of her twins in an outlying health center at 12.30miday.the baby was born without incident but number two didn’t seem to want to come down. The inexperienced attendant diagnosed that the second was presenting with a hand which could not be delivered normally. She was taken by ambulance to one of our community hospitals. Unfortunately there was no clinician at this center and I presume the attending nurse midwife was neither confident nor experienced enough to assess the situation, so she was sent to us. She arrived at 4.25pm. Four hours later! Quickly reading the referral letter I knew we were dealing with a very delayed/retained second twin with a hand presentation. I had no idea if the baby was still alive so called for the ultra sound scanner. Meanwhile I examined her only to find a small foot in her vagina. I wasted no time and took hold of the foot bringing the second foot down and delivered the breech. I still didn’t know if the baby was alive and my first impression was that she had arrived too late for the little one. Feeling the chest wall I found a very slow heart beat! I ran with the baby to the resuscitaire and with the help of a colleague we brought the baby back to life. It took a long time but we were efficiently maintaining heart activity with cardiac massage and ventilation. After 20 minutes we decided to leave the baby to ‘go it alone’ I went back to the delivery room to check up on the mother. Ten minutes later one of the midwives called to me
’Your baby’s crying!‘ she said.
Another miracle at Bwaila!