You won’t believe who I ran into in New Zealand


OB, I thought, was a blast

But now I’m a thing of the past

     Because I am male

     And I knew when to bail.

I was sure  the thing couldn’t last.

Synopsis:  I’m a family practitioner from Sioux City, Iowa.  On sabbatical to avoid burnout, while my non-compete clause ticks away I’m having adventures, visiting family and friends, and working in out-of-the-way places.  Just back from a six-week assignment in Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost point in the United States, I’m in Wellington, New Zealand taking care of details before I start work.

Yesterday on the way out of Te Papa, the New Zealand museum in Wellington, two American tourists approached us and asked us if we’d enjoyed the museum. 

We had. 

They asked, How much is it?

Free, we said, and fell to chatting as American tourists do in other countries.

They came from California; they had been two weeks in Australia and would spend another two weeks sight-seeing in New Zealand.  

The subject of languages came up, and the female of the couple, a tall blonde, said a few things in Spanish, mentioning that she learned the language at LA Women’s Hospital where she’d worked as a nurse.

“No me digas,(you don’t say),” I said.  I worked there the month of July 1981, doing an externship during residency.  I delivered a lot of babies that month and I quit counting at fifty.

The nurse, it turned out, had been working in the same place at the same time, and had certainly worked with me.

Memories came flooding back.  My schedule in theory went twenty-four hours on, twenty-four hours off, and an eight-hour clinic.  The reality came out differently; after the twenty-four hours on I had to do postpartum rounds which sometimes stretched into late afternoon.

When I finished my long day, I would dress in shorts and t-shirt and go out into the barrio.  I would look for my favorite video game, Battle Zone, and play a few times.  When I had spent all the quarters I was going to, I would look for the dodgiest restaurant I could find.

At a time when, per hour, I earned less than minimum wage, I could spend two dollars and get enough really great food that I would need another eighteen hours to digest it.

Bethany, pregnant with our first child at the time, hung around the apartment till she figured out how terrible the schedule really was, and went off to visit friends in South California.

I don’t blame her.

I learned a lot about obstetrics that month.  I used that knowledge and enjoyed delivering babies for the next thirty years.  As time went on, my resilience faded to the long hours, vigilance, and sleep deprivation.  I gave it up last May.

Here in New Zealand, the midwife movement has pushed the doctor away from intrapartum OB for the majority of births, and an increasing number of deliveries happen at home.

Some of the docts fought the trend, as they’d built practices and careers on that segment of medicine. 

Decades ago I recognized that only an accident of history would have let men into attending births of babies.  I am grateful to have been part of that experience, and each delivery I did left me euphoric and awestruck.

But I don’t miss it.

 

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