11 Apr 2005, Comments (0)

What I am about to tell you will probably distress you very much

Author: Helen

Barista gives us the guts of the story which has been all over the news in Victoria. And a rattling good story it is.


Rafi Ahmed and Huzaifa Salma alreadly knew their child was dead when she was born…. When the family went to the morgue to pick up the body of their stillborn child, they discovered it was not there. Soon Melbourne’s Royal Women’s Hospital had to admit they had lost it.

Somewhere in the next three days, workers at the Eureka Linen Service in Ballarat, which has the contract to do the hospital’s laundry, found the tiny body in the washing. By then it had gone through a washing and drying cycle.

I will leave you to imagine that moment of discovery.

The foetus was accidentally taken away in the laundry.


Ellen and Fred Marks (Not their real name) had a baby girl at the RWH after a long and difficult labour. Ellen would have been curious as to why she was left on a trolley for what seemed like an inordinately long time in some kind of ante-chamber to somewhere with the bub on her tummy, but she was fully occupied staring into the most wonderful set of eyes, which stared back with a hyper-aware and luminous curiosity.

When Ellen was finally found a bed, the reason for the long delay became more apparent as curtains were swooshed shut and a pediatrician and senior nurse sat down next to the bed. the Peed said:

–what I am about to tell you will probably distress you very much.

A bald statement like that is pretty frightening in its vagueness. Every scenario known to medicine flashed through Ellen’s mind. Her perfect seeming baby must be missing some vital organ, and would die in days. Or she had some sinister metabolic disorder and would die in days, etc, etc. At any rate, the news that was coming wasn’t good.

Her baby, it seemed, had not one but TWO signs of Down’s syndrome. She had only one line on her palm (a trait shared by a music teacher and activist friend) and her eyes looked a bit fold-y at the inner edges. With two signs like these, the DNA test she would soon have would be a bit of a formality.

Ellen found it impossible, after the tummy session, to believe these people. Over the next three days, as she went through the Baby Boot Camp which is the RWH, she cuddled and sang to her little girl. I’ve got sunshine… on a cloudy day. And when it’s cold outside… Being an educated woman, a bit of a smartarse really, she knew the odds were bad, and she diagnosed herself as being in denial. “De Nile ain’t just a river in Egypt,” she thought. “I’d better think realistically and prepare myself”. But her gut kept telling her that this bright little baby wasn’t really affected. The nurses were so wonderful. They spoiled Ellen a bit, she thought, and singled M. out for attention. They taught Ellen to breastfeed, which she’d thought was something you just did. They even invited her and M to have a glass of champagne with them in the visitors’ waiting room when one of them had a birthday. Ellen knew they weren’t allowed to give her false hope, but they were visibly happy with M.

Then the results of the DNA test came back.

And they were negative. The gut feelings were right.

(M just had rather almond shaped eyes, which ran in her family, and the one line on the hand can also occur naturally.)

And some of Ellen’s friends and family said: Aren’t you going to sue/complain to the Women’s hospital for putting you through all that?

Ellen thought of the awesome doctors and nurses (not forgetting Russell the anaesthetist, the bearded angel with an epidural) and all the midwives of Ward no. 4 who had nurtured and taught her and stayed up all night for lousy pay. She thought of the bean counters and the funding cuts and the shabby paint in the corridors and the miracles wrought. And she refused to think about badmouthing them for money (“My Baby Agony: Mother Tells”). With not one but two signs of Down’s syndrome, they had to say something. What if they had kept stum and then the DNA test had been positive? They were damned if they did and damned if they didn’t.

Ellen and M. went home and lived happily. Five years later, Ellen had a cheeky, noisy little boy in the same hospital. His eyes and hands were unremarkable (though gorgeous) but he proved to be a yelling, hunger striking drama queen from day 1. A beautiful Scottish nurse with midwifery qualifications to die for sat up at night with him and his mum. Once, Ellen saw her make a bed with her mind-bendingly skilled hands. This made as much sense as one of the surgeons doing the photocopying. The bean counters had decided that hospitals could get by on fewer staff – so they did.

But they put in, and put in, to make sure we, the mothers and babies, were looked after as well as possible.

As well as humanly possible.

Someone will be pilloried, but somehow I don’t think it’s going to be one of the bean counters.

Comments (0)

  • fxh says:

    We should be careful about fingerpointing based on newspaper accounts. I have added some comments on the initial case over at Barista.

    As far as nurses making beds, when it was initially suggested that less skilled persons should be employed to make beds and such essential hotel tasks the nursing profession resisted with industrial action the introduction of people to perform “non nursing duties”. The argument was that things like making beds were part of the caring role of nurses.

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