Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Doula at your service

I managed to survive the last few weeks of craziness so maybe I'll actually manage to post a bit more in the next few weeks. Part of my busyness was training for my new hospital doula gig.

Typically a doula only works with private clients, i.e. a mother hires you to go to the hospital with her. This is a bit different. It's a part time job working with two Boston hospitals -- MGH and Brigham and Women's as part of a research study they are doing about the fevers associated with an epidural. They need doulas to support the comparison group who are, they hope, not going to get an epidural because they are being assisted by a doula. With the use of a doula, the percentage of need for pain meds (and other medical interventions) in a birth drops signifigantly. Nice to know we're helpful and the docs know it!

It is also good feeling to be part of an important study whose outcome is being closely watched by the birthing community. I am surprised at how much I am enjoying becoming a part of the hospital community. I love my badge and my scrubs and my beeper to the point I drag them out whenever friends come over so they can admire my id photo and tell me how cool my beeper is. I imagine some of the excitement will wear off after I've been beeped at 3 AM and my groovy scrubs are covered with, um, airborne pathogens.

Speaking of which, I promised a placenta story. I won't get too graphic. Part of my job is to take the placenta after the birth to a lab and follow certain procedures to determine if there has been any infection in the mom or baby. These include taking a photo (smile, my friend placenta!), weighing it, swabbing it, and cutting some parts and putting them in liquid nitrogen to be sent away for tests.

In our training, we donned our scrubs, gloves and face masks and got to work on practicing these procedures before doing them with a placenta from the study. Here's where things got a bit interesting for me. This was the first time I'd ever seen any sort of body part in action, shall we say. And I'm covered head to toe in protective gear in a hot room, breathing into a plastic face shield. I'm watching our instructor cut some placenta samples. Although I was feeling perfectly calm and not weirded out at all, some part of my physical system said, uh uh. Nope. The room starts spinning. I say, "I think I need to go sit down." Being healthcare professionals, the folks in the room knew what to do and within moments I was all set up like a queen with a glass of cold water, a cold cloth and a comfy chair (with my head between my knees in a rather unqueenlike manner). I was fine, but I had never experienced such a physical response before. There was no choice about mind over matter -- some part of me did not like what was happening.

A little sheepish and humbled, I recovered and headed back in and was able to get to work with no problem. I kept the plastic face shield a little further from my face which probably helped some in the fainting department. And I went to work and did two full placenta procedures like a champ. How's that for a good day's work. I tell you, returning to my regular desk job the next day felt like I was returning after a trip to Mars. The squeamish should skip the next part: the question most people are asking me is what a placenta is like. It's definitely like an organ -- a fairly firm mass of tissue. Working with it is very much like working with raw chicken. See, I knew all those years of cooking would serve me somehow ...

We are just flesh and blood after all. That's part of what I love about this doula work -- it's about as real as you can get.

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