Kala, woobling with madwives and a little red light of epiphany …

I’m in a reflective mood. It’s all part of my therapy, to help reaffirm to myself that I still have a worthwhile contribution to make in the world. I’ve written a few factual accounts of what got me here, but they are not for posting, just yet. What I am posting is a couple of cathartic rants about how daft the world can be sometimes, especially in my beloved NHS.

I’m literally half way through a rantypants on management redisorganisations and owning up to the various parts I’ve played in that perennial pantomime. Sat there typing away as usual, with a glass of Pinot noir to loosen the inhibitions, a deep memory whispered around me, like a warm breeze. I lost myself for a few minutes and as the automatic writing swirled its way back to the keyboard, I felt that the experience didn’t fit well in the middle of a polemic. I’ll post that tomorrow. In the meantime, I hope you’ll agree that this is a memory worth sharing and one that deserves it’s own little place in my bloggy world.

An epiphany is a moment of sudden and great revelation or realization.

As a junior manager and new to the Maternity Unit, I decided that I had better get up to speed quickly, on how the place works. My better half suggested that I should go and park myself up on the Delivery Suite to get a feel for the place.

When I told my colleagues this, I’m sure I would have got the same response if I’d have stuck two pencils up my nose and shouted wooble (referring to the header image). You must be mad, was their reaction. The Labour Ward, as the locals called it, was renowned as the scariest place in the hospital, ruled over by an amazonian tribe of women known as Madwives, capable of chewing the head off any bean counter, who comes within 200 yards.

Surely not I thought, but having parked myself in the computer bay in the middle of the ward, I spent the first few days with holes being stared into the back of my head. It is a scary place. Then one of the locals discovered that I could make computers do what they were supposed to, so at least I had some useful reason for being, as far as the Madwives were concerned.

Within a week or two the midwifery equivalent of Kala, scooped me up and started to explain some of the mystic arts that were underway in various corners of the place.

Kala

One thing about being Welsh that you learn early on, is that life is a Matriarchy and so I’ve grown up surrounded by powerful women. I’m fairly certain that the various Matriarchs I’ve worked with over the years, see me as more of a cheeky monkey than a threat to their superiority – unlike the dickheads and the egomaniacs, who despise my natural irreverence to their alpha-male posturing, like Kerchak. Anyway, I must have done something right as one morning, I arrived at my favourite seat on Labour Ward (I’m a creature of habit), to a mug of hot tea and a slice of cake. It was waiting for me, like some form of ritual initiation that was to set me up perfectly, for the epiphany.

It was a manic day. The ward downstairs was dinging and asking for help, clinic was two hours behind time and every delivery room was rammed. There was an inconsolable Dad sat on the floor at one end the corridor; a blazing row spilling out of a room at the other end; half a dozen women were labouring in the community; and all this amongst the usual shouting, crying, ringing phones and bustling about of a normal day in Maternity. It happens now and again, Kala reassured me, this feels like one of those days when everything comes at once.

I thought to myself, you can shove your four hour A&E target, that’s a luxury compared to this place. What’s more, for the most part, everyone in Maternity is healthy and happy and looking forward to a very positive outcome. So this is risky business and as Kala regularly reminded me, there’s at least two precious lives, everywhere you look. That fact was then brought home with a bang, or more accurately a little red light, flashing discretely.

There was a crisis in one of the ‘normal rooms’. At the time I didn’t know what was happening, but something was obviously emerging from what I can only describe as, the organised chaos. I did the only thing a manager could, which is to keep well out of the way of anything important and so I became the eye witness to something utterly amazing.

The whole pattern of activity and behaviour, seemed to go into slow motion. Half a dozen midwives and care assistants appeared out of various corners, one followed Kala into the room below the little red light and the doors were flung open. A doctor, wearing what looked like a utility belt, went at full tilt down the corridor and sidestepped into the anaesthetic room with the manic intent of a scrum half, dressed like batman. A flotilla of doctors then streamed past like a rowing team without a boat, before the poorly mum glided out of the room and across the corridor like a scene from Bedknobs and Broomsticks. At this point we’re less than a minute into the unfolding drama.

I’m not sure if it was just me concentrating on the scene, or whether the whole place actually went eerily quiet. After the longest, breathless anticipatory pause….. there was a faint cry. This was followed by the most haunting wail of pure relief I’ve ever heard and will never forget. One of the midwives emerged, gave a few quiet instructions and the whole place seemed to inhale. Then slowly, everything began to speed back up and the pattern went back to its familiar chaos.

The clinical handover went something like this: Mum was absolutely knackered, but fine, baby’s a bouncer and just needs a quick check up with the Neonates and Dad was completely zombified: as I handed him a hot cup of tea and a slice of cake. Meanwhile, Kala hadn’t broken a sweat, “this is what we’re here for”, she said.

Despite the manic day, when it really mattered, there was no shouting and screaming, in fact there were barely any instructions, the communication was calm and precise and everyone knew exactly why they were there, for those few critical minutes. Then, just as effortlessly, it all went back to normal. Amazing.

A defection is the desertion of one’s cause in favour of an opposing one.

Cerberus guarding the gates to the underworld

From that point forward, I just seemed to get how it all worked. I understood what was really important to people and making sure they got it, was now my crusade. I spent most of my management time, guarding the place like some crazed Cerberus and explaining in various management forums, that Maternity doesn’t work like the rest of the organisation and that they’d better back away. Perhaps I’m blinkered or biased by the experience, but I committed my own skin into that game, I even married one of them!

I’ve lost count of the number of times various doctors have asked me where I trained, after they witness me woobling away in those various forums. A massive compliment. The subsequent jokes at my expense about being an amateur gynaecologist are not repeatable here, but are a testament to the equally amazing sense of humour and personal fortitude it takes to work in this place. Further validation came to me a little while later, when my Chief Executive accused me of defecting to the clinicians. That’s a badge I still wear with pride and I’ve a sense that my career won’t be complete without a little more time, spent back up on Labour Ward.

A few years later, I was the zombified Dad having a wooble beneath a little red light. Kala was gone, but I had complete faith in her daughters, as they calmly defeated a ‘true knot’ that threatened the life of what is now, a big 16 year old grumpy gorilla that lives in my house.

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