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How I Survived a Public Hospital in Colombia

How I Survived a Public Hospital in Colombia

Culture, Life Abroad

My father once said “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Nothing makes this statement more true than the horror of pre-term birth. When my water broke at 34 weeks or 8 months I could hardly process what had just happened. It couldn’t be, could it? I was so stunned I couldn’t find the words to tell my husband. I was in shock, I even called my mom in the US to ask her if that was what had happened. She said I was going to have my baby.

My Pre-term Birthing Experience at a Public Hospital in Colombia

storm

Later as I was taken to the hospital, my head was flooded with all the “good” intentions I had. I had planned to have the baby at home, with only my husband and doctor attending. It was supposed to be a beautiful, natural birth with minimal assistance. I was ecstatic to follow in my mothers footsteps and prove my health and athleticism. Now all those plans had turned to dust. I was going to have a pre-mature hospital assisted birth. It was all wrong.

Later came the doubts. At my darkest hour as I waited for labor pains to start I began to analyze, because that is the intellectual approach. I had been battling a yeast infection that had turned into a urinary tract infection combined with a ruptured membrane. My diet was ok, not too junky (if you don’t count my almost junkie-like desire for sweets) but I was controlling it. I had planned to go see my doctor on Monday to see how my pregnancy was progressing and the day following when my water broke was to be my baby shower.

Family

Colombia is ranked by The World Health Organization as #22 for quality of health care, outranked by Chile and Most of Europe. The US ranks #37. Even then going to a hospital did not appeal to me. I am little miss Independent, I don’t do “conventional” things. We booked privately initially for lack of any healthcare plan. This is generally not an issue because the costs are low and the hospital here is hailed as being very good. The food doesn’t suck too bad and I have a few special privileges by being a private patient such as a private room and unlimited spousal visits. Still, the road to hell begins.

As I lay here in bed, on an IV and anti-biotics. It’s 4:30 am, I managed to do something resembling sleep for most of the night. In the distance I can hear a cock crowing to announce the early dawning of another day in tropical paradise. For me this is the day they will induce my labor. I have been given a steroid shot to the ass to help the baby’s lungs develop. All is quiet in the Obstetrics unit except the buzzing of the machine and a soft snore from a nearby room. The road to hell has begun. Will my labor pains feel like a million tortures? Will I be able to resist the urge to scream “Epidural” like an Amazonian battle cry? Will my son have the heart to fight his way into the light and breathe independently of a machine? All are questions that I don’t have the answer to. All I have is my faith, the support of my husband and the courage to keep moving forward. No. Matter. What.

In the end things worked out better and worse. The costs for a preterm baby at the private hospital were too high for us to afford. Jaime went to the government and pleaded wth them for assistance, which they gave. As soon as the private hospital learned of our new financial status we were tossed out like yesterdays bath water.  It meant being transferred to the public Hospital Universitario San Jorge. Kinda like poor little rich girl. I was picked up by two jovial medics, one had tattoos and told me my eyes were so beautiful (because no Colombian has ever said that before…eye roll). The ambulance was so old that when it refused to start they had to push start it. (Fred Flinstone style). It took me until midnight to get checked in. I felt violated, stressed and totally freaked out after a doctor got too rough with my vagina in front of an open window. I was put in a ward with 10-12 other women in various stages of labor, pregnancy and pregnancy issues. When my labor was induced the pain came hard and fast. I was left alone in the corner to endure it alone once visiting hours ended. It hurt, I writhed and screamed with pain, suddenly I knew it was time to push. In the end the doctors barely caught me as the baby’s head started peeking out. Rather than getting hauled away to the birthing room and strapped down I gave birth right there in front of everyone. It was dirty, it was raw and I went all in, with modesty long gone I brazened it out like a cheap prostitute on a Saturday night.

Daniel was born at 8:30 pm on November 25th at about 5 lbs. He was rushed to the neonatal unit and cleaned up and put under a lamp as he did not have enough fat to maintain body heat. I spent the last 3 days in the hospital poked and prodded at night, and maintaining vigilant watch at Daniels side by day. He is a perfect miracle, against all odds and norms he was born able to breath, suck and even lift his head up. Most preterm babies have none of these capabilities.

On his 4th day of life he was released from the hospital. I have mixed feelings about the whole experience. Being in a public hospital was part horror, and part tolerable. My veins were shot up and broken down by 3 different IV pokes and 3 blood tests, my arms looked like those of a junkie. I was unable to sleep at night because someone was bothering me for examinations, blood pressure and IV solution changes every two hours. I felt at times like I was losing my mind while other times shocked and amazed at the generosity of other patients and nurses. For every good there was a bad. One of my roommates was an indigenous woman who later invited me and my husband to visit their community and stand in as godparents for her son. (Expect a future article about this). There was a fat woman doctor who finger raped me…painfully. God bless the nurse who on my last IV needle poke realized that my veins are really small and gave me a smaller gauge needle that didn’t hurt as badly.

Hospital 1

This is my crazy life. Sometimes “la vida loca” just doesn’t turn out as the pretty package we want it to be. As the Colombians say “Pie-la!”, or “in trouble.” However it all worked out even though nothing was ideal or even according to plan. Once again humanity showed me both it’s good and bad faces. I was thrown into the ocean to sink or swim. The language barrier at times made my life hell, but a few simple acts of kindness saved my faith in humanity. Now it is all over and when I look into the eyes of my son I know that everything is right with the world as I fall deeper and deeper in love with my little miracle baby….

Monkey
My son Daniel.

 

About the author

English Teacher, Freelancer, Chocolate Entrepreneur and Traveler!!

6 Comments

  1. Andrew Donaldson
    December 7, 2014 at 10:50 pm
    Reply

    You’re going to have one heck of a story to tell him once he’s old enough.

  2. Jane Clements
    December 7, 2014 at 10:56 pm
    Reply

    Wow. Powerful writing Erin. I didn’t realise that your experience had been so bad. Daniel truly is a miracle and you and Jaime are strong together

  3. Mary
    December 8, 2014 at 1:39 am
    Reply

    Wow Erin great story, you survived and mama will come for a visit in two more weeks. see you soon.

  4. Mady Henderson
    December 8, 2014 at 2:30 am
    Reply

    Erin! I admire the “rawness” to this story! Bless your heart for all you had to go through to get little Daniel here! You are such a strong woman!

  5. megan
    December 9, 2014 at 12:54 am
    Reply

    Wow…. I’m glad u 3 made it thru the public hospital experience. He’s so handsome.

  6. Ana Andrews
    February 21, 2015 at 3:18 pm
    Reply

    Erin, thank you for sharing your experience. It truly is a blessing that little Daniel made it into this world albeit as a preterm baby. I am from Colombia and know Mike and Lynn. Hope you are all having a great visit.

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