Answer by Rory Young:
Fear makes us feel our humanity.
– Benjamin Disraeli
[Forgive me; two incidents actually but they are closely linked.]
My daughter's birth was was the most wonderful thing that had ever happened. It changed my entire view of life and all my priorities in a flash. I could not remember ever having felt such joy. I had not known till then that I would able to just sit and look at another human being for hours and feel complete and utter peace and happiness.
Before the birth I was just very anxious about the well-being of my wife. She is slightly built and not very strong physically, although mentally her resilience is formidable and her quiet strength of character has always amazed me.
Despite my concerns she was fine. We had decided that the birth would take place at the best hospital in South Africa. Everything went extremely well. Our little angel was born without any unusual.
We waited for two weeks in South Africa before travelling home to Livingstone in Zambia. For the first month everything was fine and she grew and developed well. At six weeks old our little Astrid fell ill.
She kept throwing up and she had a fever. We rushed her to our doctor's clinic. Our doctor was away so we called our second choice. He was away too. We had to see someone else.
We went to clinic recommended by a friend. The doctor there immediately started giving her injections. Especially anti-pyretics to lower her temperature and anti-biotics. Her temperature went down at first but then shot up again. He gave her another more injections, said she would be fine and left. She continued to throw up. It all felt completely wrong.
We made a snap decision. We went home, picked up our passports, then raced to the airport and jumped on a plane to South Africa.
In the emergency ward of a Johannesburg hospital they made clear she was in a serious condition. They tried to get a drip into her hand and failed. Eventually they ended up putting one in her head.
When they started doing this they told me to get my wife out of the room. She was distraught. I tried to calm her. She took a deep breath and told me to go back inside and stay with our little girl.
Astrid had gone from screaming to very quiet. I knew this was not a good sign.
I felt my world collapsing. It was as if some giant evil hand was clasped around my throat and squeezing it with malevolent joy.
Till this point every hardship, pain, suffering, fear felt totally insignificant. I had never felt such complete and helpless terror. I had learned during my life to shut down my emotions and fears when dealing with threats to my own safety and to just accept whatever may come if I couldn't mentally and physically overcome it.
This was something different. It was emotional terror. I had experienced it before when I had believed that my wife was in danger but not to this degree as the threat was different.
This was not the threat of physical pain this was my very soul being tortured. I could not bear the possibility that we might loseour sweet little girl.
The pediatrician explained carefully to me everything he had done to get her temperature, heat-rate and hydration to normal. She had gastroenteritis and the laboratory had identified the culprit and exactly what antibiotic was needed. Our daughter and Marjet had been sedated. He told me that he was hopeful that she would be okay.
The feeling of relief that flooded through my body like the ultimate drug . The next feeling was of panicked concern. Hopeful? How hopeful? Hopeful meant nothing!
The doctor calmed me down and said that he believed strongly that she would soon start to respond to the treatment.
She did. Very soon she was on the mend but she had to stay in hospital for two weeks.
On the last day the pediatrician who had treated her when we first arrived asked to sit down to chat to us. When we had arrived with her I had handed him a list I had made detailing all the treatment she had received from the doctor in Livingstone. The pediatrician told me that when they had looked at this list they had immediately seen that the treatment itself was the biggest problem. Then he told me that he would deny it if I repeated it but that the treatment itself would have killed her and that if we hadn't brought her to the hospital in South Africa that she would almost certainly have died.
Although our daughter recovered, my wife suffered from post natal depression and had a very hard time. However, she struggled and overcame it and soon we were all healthy and happy again.
Eighteen months later we were preparing for the birth of our second child.
This time Marjet decided that she wanted to have the birth in Livingstone. I really didn't feel comfortable with this but she was adamant. She didn't want to go and stay in South Africa for six weeks before the birth and then another two afterwards.She wanted to be able to go and have the baby and then come straight home.
We discussed it with our Uzbek doctor, who was also a friend. There was private clinic, properly equipped and owned by an Egyptian surgeon. He would deliver the baby and our doctor would also make sure that she was available.
The due date arrived and nothing happened. It was decided that they would induce the birth if nothing happened within a few days. The next day her waters broke.
However, no contractions came. The doctor decided to induce the following morning if the contractions had not begun by then.
Again nothing happened, so she was checked in for the baby to be induced.
The Doctor started inducing. Nothing happened. So he tried again with more medication. Everything then went wrong.
The surgeon started looking panicky but did not say anything. Our friend stepped in. When the doctor handling the delivery ignored her she started aggressively questioning the nurses. She pulled me aside.
She had a hard look on her face. "You need to trust me and do exactly what I say". I nodded. "You need to get her to Doctor Bupile at Livingstone General Hospital NOW". I agreed. She said, "I will call Doctor Bupile; you get her there!"
I didn't wait to find out why, I grabbed the doctor and told him we were going to Livingstone General. He didn't argue, "Yes, yes, the baby is distressed, I need to perform a caesarion", he said.
We raced there. Doctor Bupile, a Congolese gynecologist who had trained and worked for 18 years in Belgium, was waiting. He questioned the Egyptian doctor. After hearing what he had to say, he gave him some harsh words and told him to leave the hospital. He then began examining Marjet.
Our Uzbek friend explained what was going on. "He started inducing and the contractions began but Marjet's cervix was not opening", she said. "He then did the worst thing, he tried to induce again", sh continued, "this meant that her contractions became even harder but the cervix was still not opening; so the baby was being forced but could not go anywhere. They are both now extremely distressed".
Up until this point I had focused on just getting her to the hospital. Now my world started collapsing. I asked how serious it was. "Extremely serious for them both", she answered.
I was hit by the horrible realization that I might lose both my wife and my unborn child and I could do nothing.
The doctor decided wait because the contractions seemed to be slowing and he was hoping they would stop and both of them would be able to recover. He wanted to wait as long as possible before trying a risky caesarion.
The contractions slowed and then stopped. First her heart and then later the baby's heart rate returned to normal. They were out of trouble it seemed. I asked him what would happen now.
"We will let them rest", he said. Hopefully the contractions will come naturally but if they don't begin in the next twelve hours we will perform a caesarion."
I walked over to the bed and kissed my wife. She smiled and asked what was happening. I told her everything was fine and she should just rest. Our doctor friend had just told me they could both have died. I didn't tell her this. I couldn't let her get stressed.
We sat and chatted. The doctors left and we were alone with one nurse all the other patients in the ward. I looked around. We were in what would only have been called a condemned building in the first world. Half the windows were broken. It was winter. The "sheets" were torn rags and the walls were brown with filth.
I looked at my lovely wife and could not believe we had ended up here with their lives in the balance.
The contractions started again. The doctor came. Everything was fine, her cervix was opening and the contractions were increasing normally.
The doctor left and when it became obvious that the birth was approaching, I asked the nurse where the doctor was, as he had promised to be there.
"He has gone to church", she answered, "I will call him." My response cannot be repeated.
She couldn't get him on the phone so left a message.
She told my wife that she could now walk to the "birthing theater". This was in another wing of the hospital. I asked her if she was out of her mind and then told her that she was not going to be walking anywhere.
The nurse told me she had delivered several thousand babies, that I should calm down, that my wife could have the baby there and then curtained off the bed as best she could.
She began to instruct Marjet to breathe. As any good husband does, I repeated everything the nurse said and tried not to pass out. Then she left. Apparently to get something or other.
Her timing couldn't have been worse. Marjet had obviously had enough because she gave one last push and I suddenly found myself holding the baby.
I had just "delivered" my own son.
The nurse returned.
They were both fine. The nurse thought it was a heck of a funny thing that she had missed the actual birth and I had been on my own. I probably would have strangled her with my bare hands if I hadn't been so relieved that it was over, Marjet was fine and we had a healthy son!
If I ever think I am having a bad day I just have to think back to the times I almost lost everyone I love. If I ever feel fed up with my luck for any reason I just have to think of how lucky I am to have them!
Our little Aidan just after his birth, on a kitchen scale!
Our daughter Astrid today. (and her first tigerfish)
Marjet, my lovely wife.