Saturday, July 09, 2011

Tangled up in cords (not umbilical)

Labor and delivery in a modern hospital exposes you to some amusing tech gadgets. There is a computer on wheels by your bed that displays a graph of your baby's (OK, fetus's) heart rate, and a graph of your contractions. Sometimes a nurse comes in to check on you, and pulls up another patient's graphs besides yours -- multitasking, I guess. So you can see how strong or frequent are this other, anonymous patient's contractions, and play an imaginary race against her. Faster! Stronger! Who's going to deliver a baby first?

(And here's a bit of trivia. Semi-reclining in bed is called semi-fowlers in nurse parlance. Sitting up straight in bed is called high fowlers. I know this because the nurse, whenever she came in to check on me, made notes of my position in the computer by the bed. I finally asked her what that meant.)

Baby heart rate and contraction monitors were by far the most annoying aspect of hospital birth. They made my first, pre-induction night the most uncomfortable -- more so than the two postpartum nights. I had to sleep in a hospital gown, on a bed that is designed for delivering babies, not sleep. The whole time I was tethered to the monitors that were placed on my belly and had cables going from them to the computer stand. Whenever I shifted, let alone rolled over on the other side, the monitors slipped off. Then the nurse would come in and mess with them for 10 minutes at a time to reposition them. This happened at least once an hour. I'm surprised I got even one hour of sleep. I finally drifted off early in the morning, and was woken up by the nurse at 6 a.m., who came in to start the induction. Oh, and the evening before I barely talked the nurses into unplugging my IV port from the IV line, to which they had me hooked up most of the evening. The reason? The baby's heart rate seemed too high, so they were giving me fluids. (I don't see a connection here, but I'm not a doctor.)

Going to the bathroom is an ordeal. You have to unplug the cords of the two monitors' and automatic blood pressure cuff, sling them over your shoulder and take them with you to the bathroom. The exercise is pointless -- the monitors will slip off of their fine-tuned positions on your belly, and will have to be readjusted. You might as well take them off, but instead you do as the nurse said, and drag them and the cords with you. You ask for cordless monitors, and the hospital staff brings them to you as soon as they can find some (they only have two cordless monitors on this floor, and they are in use all the time), but that still doesn't do you much good, because you also have to drag the damn IV stand with you to the bathroom! It makes the whole trip only marginally less cumbersome.

The next most annoying thing was a self-adjusting bed in the postpartum room. It makes tiny adjustments to its elevation and angle the whole time you are in it. As soon as you sit down, the bed slightly inflates or elevates the part you're sitting on; sometimes even when you are lying still, the bed will inflate or deflate under you. Those shifts are minuscule, and your position hardly changes at all; only the low whirr of a motor and vibration informs you that the bed is doing something. A nurse explained to me that this is to prevent bed sores -- not that postpartum patients are in much danger of those, but the hospital has just one type of bed, and this is it. And no, these self-adjustments can't be turned off. In two days I still didn't get used to them enough to ignore them. It's as if this inanimate thing is constantly annoyed by your presence and squirms to get out from under you. :-) It's hard not to take it personally. It makes you wonder if we really want "smart houses" in our future. Maybe I'll be just as happy with "dumb" furniture that's not aware of my presence.