Arriving or Departing?

One of the nurses was unhappy when I asked to be present in Theatre. The surgeon was called over. ‘Have you seen open surgery before?’ Well…I’ve watched some on TV and although I am very squeamish I insisted I had to be there. He agreed and asked me to get dressed for Theatre. So wearing surgical shoes, gown and mask I entered a scene which immediately struck me as a kind of garage workshop. Lots of noise, metallic sounds as instruments were dropped into metal trays and shiny steel buckets. It seemed rather cluttered.

Bizarrely, a radio was playing Radio 1. Not long after when my daughter was cut from her mother’s body I noted the time and the song playing on the radio was Joe Jackson’s ‘It’s different for girls..’ But between then and when I was sat next to the Anaesthetist- a large man who exuded pure calm and professionalism, time really did seem to slow down. He explained what he was doing and asked whether my partner had eaten breakfast. The midwife had explained to my partner that she would be shaved prior to the anaesthetic which for some reason appalled me. Little did I know what was about to transpire.

The surgeon asked if everyone was happy? ‘Yes’. The female Registrar nodded, so did the female Midwife. A young man was scuttling about fetching instruments and sheets- the Theatre Nurse. The surgeon painted some brown liquid all over Isobel’s belly, he even tipped up the bowl and drained the last few drops onto her skin. ‘Waste not want not’ I thought. He said the word ‘knife’ I looked at the clock- 11.15 a.m. and my heart raced so fast I felt I was going to faint. The midwife on the ward had told me that the baby was ‘in distress’ and this was going to be an emergency operation. So to say I was in a state of pure anxiety doesn’t come close to describing my feelings as the surgeon pressed his thumb and drew what seemed like a crescent shape- except it quickly turned red and at which point I closed my eyes and prayed to a God I did not actually believe in.

In the next 10 minutes the team were very focussed, words I did not understand, a kind of shorthand code I could not decipher. But I saw with my own eyes what they were doing and my heart rate increased I could hardly breathe. Isobel had been in pain weeks before and all tests failed to explain why, so it was put down to ‘normal backache prior to labour’. They were later to make a gruesome discovery. The baby was ‘fully engaged’. I saw Mr Al Halaq and the Registrar looking concerned at each other. Then things got rather dramatic. A probe had been put onto the baby’s head to monitor something and I think I heard the surgeon say with more than a sense of urgency that they were going to have to proceed very quickly.

I thought my wife and baby were going to die in front of me. To say the next few minutes were the worst in my entire life is exactly right. I don’t even remember breathing, my head was swimming yet my eyes were locked onto the unfolding scene, praying more yet hating my hypocrisy at the same time. I remember the two surgeons pushing and shoving, then asking for forceps. It looked like mediaeval torture and I felt I was going to explode because I could not contain the emotions that were overwhelming me. It looked like they were hurting Isobel and the baby, time stood still and everything went into slow-motion. I could not hear clearly what was being said – I was in some other state of consciousness. The baby was lifted away, the cord was cut and the baby was very quickly handed to the midwife holding a towel who immediately placed her onto an angled tray. This was just the beginning of the drama which unfolded in the next 10 days and the subsequent 20 year odyssey which was to contain many surprises.

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