Care Without Care

Barbara Fisher

Chapter I

by and about a young mother who sought health care for her child.

A true story

Care Without Care
Chapter I
First published by Avon Books (a division of The Hearst Corporation) in September, 1972 All rights reserved. For information address Ten Penny Players, Inc. © 1972 Barbara Fisher

Barbara Fisher

Before pregnancy, I had no opinions about the medical profession or hospitals. Some doctors I liked, others I didn’t. I had been born in a hospital. I had a yearly checkup. Every once in a while I became ill, as did my husband, and visited a GP. I wrenched a shoulder or he cut his hand. Little things that were patched up neatly. We paid promptly and the doctor didn’t see us again until a special need arose. To me doctors were craftsmen, hired to perform a service; they were no different from my attorney, local carpenter, veterinarian, or garage mechanic . . . just craftsmen with specialized skills. Looking back now, almost two and a half years later, I marvel at my incredible naïveté. The doctor, the hospital system, is the enemy. I treasure my own obstetrician-gynecologist and our pediatrician beyond price. These two ladies are a vanishing, almost extinct, medical breed. They are skilled doctors (as are many I’ve since met), but the miraculous difference is that they are physicians who still have compassion. Becoming pregnant was easy. So was holding the baby for nine months. I was careful about my

weight and diet. I’ve been fat, and I wasn’t about to make that scene again. I rested, cooked, cleaned, worked in my studio, took assignments as they came along, and saw the doctor at regular intervals. Faithful to my disdain of drugs, prescribed or illicit, I enrolled in the hospital’s Lamaze natural childbirth delivery classes. My husband, very shyly, came with me, but soon was enthusiastically helping me exercise, pant, and breathe. I worried a lot. I was convinced I’d go into delivery one night while Ernest was at work. I was sure Barbrah (my business partner and best friend) had secret designs on my husband and was waiting to take over loft, livestock, and living. I envisioned the dog mournfully howling at the door, desperate for a walk, the cats shrieking for food, the plants wilting, waterless, on the window ledges. I imagined all the food in the freezer sitting uncooked while Ernest starved and waited for my return. I wrote a holograph will and sent it to my attorney in case I didn’t return. The biggest fear was waking the doctor in the middle of the

night, rushing to the hospital—only to discover that it was a false alarm—and then sheepishly returning home. I believed in Lamaze, yet I was worried that I wouldn’t have the concentration to get through it. Some of the women in our class delivered early and sent back glowing reports of success. One woman was admitted, taken to the labor room, gave one push, and out came the baby. Another had a breech baby . . . the only thing that saved her from a Caesarean delivery was Lamaze. She was awake and able to push and help. Oh, that I would be so cooperative. I was so bored with being huge and having heartburn that, when labor began, I forgot everything at the prospect of quickly deflating the belly. All you’re allowed to keep in the hospital is your wedding ring and some small change. I don’t know whether they’re more afraid of burglars or one of us trying to escape from the labor area. I’m one of those people for whom reality fixates on the numbered dial attached to my wrist. Time fits around coffee, The New York Times, the mail, the

typewriter, the oven, walking the dog, the drawing board, the easel, the washing machine, the iron and the bed. Remove my watch, take down the wall clock, and I’m disoriented. You can’t keep your watch in the hospital; there are no wall clocks. Labor was thirty-six and one-half hours of hard work all the way. Time stuck in a 5:00 A.M. groove, neither day nor night, but gray scrim tacked to the labor-room window. Every once in a while, a brusque female intern would come by to probe my bottom and bark, “Only two fingers, you’ve got a long way to go.” Like some venerable tomato, I hung on the vine long after the season was over. Other women were rolled in and out, moaning and wailing. It was hard enough concentrating on my panting and belly rubbing without having the screamers in adjacent beds and rooms. My doctor came by to check on me once and felt badly about a suffering sixteen year old who had been planted near me. “Help her,” she said to me.

Part of the mystique and success of the Lamaze method is all the psyching you do on yourself during your study and classroom preparation. I will feel discomfort, you say, positively, but not pain. I will breathe and pant and belly rub and relax and rely on my husband to time the contractions so I can rest in between. And, of course, he’s as well primed and psyched as you, and it works. It worked for me, anyway, and those of my friends who tried it. It is virtually impossible to instill faith, reason, hope, and practical exercises into the head and lungs of an unmarried sixteen-year-old child in pain. When she remembered to do what I said, it worked. We were in different stages of labor, however; our contractions were timed differently and I couldn’t coordinate what I was doing to her contractions and thereby bolster her along. Mercifully, she delivered long before I was even fully dilated and was removed. Somewhere in the eighteenth hour, my doctor decided I should go to sleep and rest. Since I was Lamaze, and had no medication, she ordered tea

for me. She sent Ernest and Barbrah home and went somewhere to sleep herself. I was in a room alone. No husband, no friendly doctor, just the brusque intern, a postmenopausal maiden night nurse, and I. The doctor had told me to stop the exercises. Poor fool, I did as I was told. For the first time in all those hours I began to hurt. Self-pity and tears came rolling in. I became angry at my husband for leaving me alone with harridans and was infuriated by the lack of a telephone. All my life I’ve had a telephone. And now I was trapped in a grayedout room waiting for iron maiden to check me every once in a while. She was very arch about the lack of labor progression. “You came too early,” she carped. “Serves you right. You came too early.” Brusque intern came by to probe and prod. She needed her nails clipped. If she had been properly plumbed, I would have kicked her in the groin. Vicious by nature, I had reached the end of my patience. I wanted out. Despite my doctor’s dictum, supposedly inspiring me to rest, I began my exercises again and felt

instant relief. I felt so alone, but not for long. There was suddenly an intense banging on the locked labor-area corridor door. Why they locked the labor area was unfathomable. All sweaty and heaving with bursting bellies, none of us would have inspired rape or kidnapping. I heard much cursing and many imprecations to the attorney general. “Let me in! Let me in! Open up in there!” the familiar adenoidal Brooklyn voice brought smiles to my bitten lips. Barbrah had called the hospital to see whether or not I had progressed from labor; they said I wasn’t registered. She asked to speak to my doctor; they said the doctor hadn’t checked into the hospital. Barbrah understands the way of the hospital. When in doubt, Barbrah attacks. She and Ernie bolted a crosstown bus, ignored the hospital guards, and went right up to the labor area. Barbrah has, in the six years I’ve known her, threatened to sue everyone from my mother to God. She has yet to start suit, but she manages to construct a very sound case for taking whatever disturbs her to an attorney and then to court. I

enjoy writing a good play; Barbrah loves living one. Together we’re lethal. We egg each other on to heights of insanity. We’re often in opposition. But we hop along doing what we have to and get what we want. At that moment, Barbrah wanted in. The night nurse was terrified by the mounting decibels. “Who’s that?” she asked. “Who’s yelling down there?” I loved every minute of it, the power of having allies. Many women enter Lamaze classes because of the beauty of birth. For me there was no beauty, only hard work. However, most hospitals that I know of don’t allow your husband into the labor area unless they’ve been to the Lamaze classes. If you’ve got a good working partnership going with your husband, you need him in the labor room. I was so relieved that he was back. Barbrah kept on yelling until iron maiden opened the door. Barbrah first affirmed my presence. She then began yelling for my doctor, who had been asleep in the next room all the time. At that point she had been weighing whether or not to do a Caesarean. She felt that something was wrong and that I was being taxed needlessly.

Luckily, I began to feel the need to push. The intern checked again and said I wasn’t fully dilated. I said I’m pushing anyway, and how could she stop me? It didn’t hurt, so I knew I was doing the right thing. It was a great relief. Things were finally happening. I am told that my performance in that room was the talk of the hospital. Of course. Stage fright I might have, but when the curtain is up, I’m all ham. It was Lamaze right up until the end, when the doctor felt I needed just a little something to relax me. I’ve never used any drug and I’m pretty much allergic to alcohol. Whatever she gave me caused a most peculiar sensation. My body was on the table. The doctor gave me instructions . . . when to push, when to bear down . . . but my head was way above the table, very giddy and high looking down. Whatever she injected worked without putting me out. I am, however, notorious for falling asleep instantly when prone and, after the final push, with nothing more to do, I zonked out for a few minutes as soon as I delivered.

I knew something was wrong. It was too quiet. I didn’t hear the baby cry. There was much whispering and movement from the far area of the room where they clean, weigh, and do whatever is done after the baby arrives. I kept asking the nurse what was wrong, but she never answered. She was a very sweet girl and her eyes were glazed over. I knew something had happened, but they wheeled me out and down to my room before I could see or hear anything. One of the ladies (I never did learn all their names) who was neither nurse nor maid came to swab me down. It felt good to be clean. These ladies were the backbone of the hospital. Warm and human, they speak to, not through you. They answer questions. Although the nurses treated me as though I had committed some grievous social error, one of the ladies told me that the doctor was downstairs with my husband and would arrive shortly. She did. She’s very direct and honest and told me straight out that the baby wasn’t expected to live. He had a bad heart, weak lungs, had miscellaneous physical deformities, and the mentality of

a vegetable. His back was strong. It was hard to assimilate, almost anticlimactic after the long labor, and a peculiar ending to a perfectly normal pregnancy. Ernest came upstairs. We were very brave to each other. Neither of us carries on much in public, in even the happiest of moments, and we weren’t about to crumble in a hospital. My mother, though, will never lose her Russian origins. She was very upset and it took Barbrah, Ernest, the doctor, and me to calm her down. It suddenly changed from being a problem shared by my husband and I to an extension of her own bad luck. Another blow against her life, my fault for marrying and becoming pregnant. Now, looking back at it, I realize that it’s much harder being a grandmother than a parent. Things are easier when you’re young. I wanted to go home. I saw no point in remaining the full three days. The doctor promised that if I seemed to be mending properly, I would only have to stay one more day. At that point, I still

hadn’t seen the baby. I felt relieved at not being pregnant. It also felt strange not having anything to show after all those months and the long labor. But beyond that, I didn’t feel much at all, except futile, since I had expected to have all sorts of mother things to do after delivery. My suitcase was full of birth announcements and nursing bras. What do you do when all the mothers are brought their infants and you are empty-handed? The lounge was off limits. They were shampooing the carpets. The phone was out of order until that evening, and how often can you use the bathroom? In that hospital you stay put unless your child is actually dead. Hangers-on don’t rate. If your child is dead then you’re transferred to a private room or to one with another bereaved parent. Otherwise you remain where placed, a problem to staff and patients alike. No one knows what to say to you. And there’s no place to be private. I really just wanted to go home. When I was able to see the baby through the window and his incubator, I thought he was very ugly . . . all pinched and squashed and his

hands waved angrily in the air as he squalled. Not at all the ideal child. There is a leveling of social rank in a hospital. Everything is labeled mother, father, child, doctor, nurse, technician. You are no longer writer, housewife, butcher, clubwoman. You are all suddenly alike and have much to say to each other. Yet the differences remain. The Oriental ladies drink hot water, just hot water, straight. The ladies from Williamsburg all have hatboxes full of wigs. They shave their heads, so that they will be attractive only to their husbands. But the wigs—fantastically coiffed, in several shades, formal, sporty, bouffant, long, short, red, brown, black, each in its plastic container—remain by their bedsides. These ladies look wonderful at all times because of their super collection. And their mothers all arrive with huge baskets and thermos jugs filled with special food. The mothers, too, covering their splendid wigs with simple scarves. They are jolly, happy people and I like them.

They put a whiner next to me. Such moans. Four hours of labor, then plop, out he came, but you would have thought she had suffered agonies. She never shut up. For twenty-four hours she whined and yammered to whomever would listen. It was her third child and she could have spawned a hundred-pounder from the description of her torment. When her husband arrived she went at him, eagerly describing every twinge that he, he alone, had caused. And she ate (complaining about the food) but did she eat, through every visit from the doctor, nurse, husband, in-laws, cousins, and snacks in between. But she was a thin lady. There were people everywhere. It was the noisiest of places. People bringing trays, taking trays, sweeping floors, washing sinks, shlepping babies, taking babies, changing beds, changing people, bringing medication, jabbing, prattling, cackling. Sound all the time. All the mothers were expected to go to the movies and learn how to take care of their infants. People kept asking whether or not I was going to see the second showing. It reached the point

where I finally said, “No my child isn’t expected to live.” And they were shocked into silence. Lovely silence. My doctor arrived that afternoon and said that the baby was holding his own. They had cleared his lungs several times and he was breathing more naturally. She had asked the hospital pediatrician to visit him and then speak to me. She said that the pediatrician was a wonderful woman and that I should trust her. She also said I could leave in the morning. She was, I think, more upset than Ernest and I. She had been my doctor for a long time and my sister’s as well. She had also had problems in her own family, and empathized with ours. In a way, I felt that I had let her down, and that bothered me. I kept expecting to hear that the baby had died. I figured that I’d borne an angel and that he was ready to meet whomever you meet when your soul is sprung. Barbrah phoned our attorney, Jim, who is also our minister, and he arrived to baptize the baby. I had to choose a name. He looked like a fish sprite,

and I didn’t think he belonged in our world. I felt that originally he had come from Atlantis, but that wasn’t euphonic enough. I called him Athelantis. Jim was allowed in the room with the infants and stuck his hands into the incubator (are clergymen cleaner than the rest of us?) in order to perform all the rites. Ernest was proud as could be at having his child baptized. Ernest is a very terrific sort of man. Athelantis was his son, and he was beautiful. And whether he was here with us, or elsewhere, we had produced a lovely boy. Ernest beamed and Barbrah and I didn’t look at each other or we would have cried. I had had it with being strong. I knew that I had to be home, surrounded by calmness and familiar things, and no one feeling sorry for me. That afternoon, I was told that the pediatrician would be visiting me. I was lying in bed, “resting,” when she arrived. She seemed incredibly old to me, dressed completely in black, and stooped over, hobbling on two canes. I could hardly understand her European accent and, not wishing anyone to hear our talk, my voice was pitched low. She could

hardly hear me because of her hearing problem. It was not the most auspicious of meetings. She confirmed what my doctor had said and told me that it would be best to leave the baby in the hospital, either to die or be institutionalized later. Ernest and Barbrah came to collect me the next morning. We took a last look at the baby and were gone. (To be continued)