'The new-baby cried - and I nearly joined in'

Torbay Weekly

I was looking forward to the TV version of 'This is going to hurt, the Adam Kay series about his time as a junior doctor working in maternity care.

I had read his book and also seen him live at the Princess Theatre. The programme is great TV but is it accurate? Will it put off any woman thinking about starting a family?
I realised I’m getting old when I worked out that my experience in a maternity unit in the 1970s was closer in time to 'Call the midwife than 'This is going to hurt'.  
Medical Students in the 1970s were more 'hands on' than today. As a student I worked in two maternity hospitals away from my teaching hospital.
My first experience was in Southend in 1974. Having seen several deliveries, I was ready to deliver a baby myself with an experienced midwife looking over my shoulder.

I stayed with a new Mum throughout her labour. There wasn’t a dad around. The midwife left the room with the comment: “Nothing’s happening but if she looks like she’s in the second stage press the call button and I’ll come straight back”.
Within a few minutes the Mum said that she felt something. I looked and the head was starting to appear. I pressed the call button. Would it ring louder if I pressed it harder?
The only person to appear was the baby. I put on gloves and tried to remember all my training. Luckily the baby came out easily and, by the time the midwife appeared, I was clamping the cord. So, delivery number one was on my own. Not only did I remember how to deliver a baby but also how to look relaxed and professional when inside I was terrified.
The next hospital I worked at as a medical student was 'The Mother’s Hospital' a Salvation Army hospital in Hackney, East London. The hospital is now closed but I manage to deliver a large number of babies as well as learning some of the social problems of the east end.
Later on, I was a junior doctor in Freedom Fields Hospital, Plymouth. Hospitals seem to have a habit of closing down after I have worked there.  I was an SHO which was the lowest in the medical hierarchy of the department.
By now I had plenty of experience with normal deliveries and was learning about more complicated deliveries such as forceps. Again, I had been taught the theory and seen some.
In a delivery suite things were not going well. The tracing on the baby’s heart was worrying. We needed to get the baby delivered quickly.
“Is the registrar around?” I quietly asked the midwife.
“No, he’s out on a “flying squad” call to an emergency in the community”.
“How about the other SHO?” At least he had been in the department three months longer than me.
“No, he’s over at Devonport Hospital”.
The midwife had not been trained to use forceps but had assisted in hundreds over the years.
With her politely saying things like “this is how we do this in this hospital” implying I had years of experience elsewhere she talked me through.
I managed to put in the local anaesthetic, place the forceps around the baby and help the baby into the world. He cried and I nearly joined him.

I worked all day and every third night. I remember feeling very tired. We covered a large area. Sometimes I would receive an emergency call from Bude and have to wait several anxious hours for the patient to arrive.

Most of the calls were to stitch up a woman who had just had a baby. This became automatic. One colleague commented that he dreamt he was stitching up a women and woke up to find he was.

“This is going to hurt” is a depressing portrayal of the pressures suffered by junior hospital doctors. My consultants and registrars were far more supportive. And of course, the vast majority of deliveries are routine and safe but that would make boring TV.