“So do I have to go on the drip now?”
“You don’t have to do anything. It’s only what we would advise because we think that’s the safest option.” I was smiling, keeping eye contact and using my professional friendly voice but it wasn’t working. I added, “It’s up to you – we can’t make you do anything without your consent.”
She looked at me with slightly reduced suspicion but I could tell I hadn’t won her over.
She was the type of person that I do frequently get asked to look after. It’s bad to group people into stereotypes, which causes you to make assumptions and provokes prejudices. And having said something is bad I’m now going to go ahead and do it. Sorry.
A classic midwife stereotype is a woman who is very distrustful of medical interventions, who has a complex birthing plan and can get quite upset and angry if she feels she isn’t being listened to. I’m good at working with women like that because I am a woman like that. Well I was too lazy to actually write down a complicated birth plan and I tend to do heavy passive aggression rather than actual anger but I am definitely part of that gang.
Anyway I’m normally good with people like that. I can empathise with them. I respect that they have the right to choose. I let them know why we recommend things and leave them to make choices. That’s exactly what I was doing with this woman so why did I have such a bad relationship with her?
It wasn’t until the end of the shift that I figured it out. At no point in the evening did she see my whole face. My mouth and nose were covered up with a surgical mask. Also I was only able to touch her through a plastic glove so no comforting touch. This is all, of course, due to new Covid-19 practice and having finally received a good delivery of PPE.
It’s really hard to gauge what a person is like when you can only see their eyes. I know eyes are supposed to be the window of the soul but from my experience separate them from a mouth and they tell you fuck all. I had trouble gauging what any doctors who came into my room were feeling and I know them. No wonder this poor woman couldn’t trust me.
She decided to have an epidural so by handover she was sleeping. I’m always tired at the end of a night shift but this one felt particularly hard. As I was whispering her clinical details to the day midwife something got into my eyes that stung but I couldn’t wipe them or clean them out without removing all the PPE outside the room. So I didn’t wake her up to say goodbye which feels rather shitty.
This all seems fairly petty compared to whatever the ITU nurses are having to do during this pandemic. It’s good that midwifery isn’t too badly affected but it is making a difference to people’s experience of birth. Also I guess it’s a pointer about the everyday joy of smiling and connecting with another human being. Something you didn’t realise was so important until it was taken away. Like the ability to buy loo rolls but maybe even more profound….