SHANIQUE Armstrong visited Spanish Town Hospital for a recurring cough but ended up delivering her baby on her own in the company of strangers.
The 26-year-old woman, who went into pre-term labour while on a bed in the waiting area of the hospital's Accident and Emergency (A&E) Department, told the Jamaica Observer that her cries for help went unanswered by hospital staff, including nurses, whom she said insisted that they were not trained to deliver babies.
No doctor was reportedly available at the time.
Armstrong, who was 24 weeks pregnant, said the infant died sometime after her delivery.
The survival rate for babies born at 24 weeks in Jamaica is not known as there are no available statistics, but the Sunday Observer has been reliably informed that it is difficult for babies born at this stage in Jamaica to survive. The source said the necessary resources are not available for care, especially at public health facilities.
This is Armstrong's second time experiencing loss at the largest Type B hospital on the island, after her daughter died during labour last September.
She said she was 32 weeks then.
The Sunday Observer contacted Dwayne Francis, chief executive officer of Spanish Town Hospital, who said that while he was learning about Armstrong's situation for the first time, he was “shocked” by the details.
“I will have to investigate this matter. The A&E waiting area is an open space, and for her to deliver like that is shocking. What I know to be true is that once the patient is pregnant they would try to expedite their care. If there's any compromise for the baby the doctor for the maternity unit would come over, because our maternity unit isn't far, and they are there all day. This is shocking news,” said Francis.
Armstrong told the Sunday Observer that her ordeal began when she visited the hospital on May 29 after feeling unwell. She said she was admitted, but space issues at the facility caused her to be rolled into the unit's waiting area along with other patients who had also been admitted.
The then-expectant mother said she remained at that location for a few days while being observed by nurses on duty.
It was during this time, Armstrong said, she began having stomach pains, which she said she reported to the nurses who had been observing her.
Although intermittent, the pain would return stronger each time, Armstrong said.
“Mi go there for a cough, which dem seh a pneumonia mi have, and they wanted to treat it. I never went to have my baby or anything. I remember I start to feel pain and tell the nurse. She was doing vitals. Mi seh, 'Nurse, mi nuh like how this pain feel enuh.' She asked mi if I pee from I come. Mi tell her, 'Yes.' She walked away and tell the other nurse dem, 'Armstrong seh she a feel pain.' That was it,” the woman, who has a four-year-old daughter, recalled.
She said at that point she convinced herself that the pain was not an indication of a serious problem, because the professionals had not reacted in a manner which suggested it was.
Armstrong would eventually learn otherwise as she shifted restlessly, she said, to ease her discomfort.
“All this time I was on a bed in the waiting area. I lie down and keep tossing my body from side to side. I'm saying to myself this feels like labour pain. I would know what labour pain feel like because I have a daughter and it's not the first I'm pregnant,” said the St Catherine resident.
On June 1, Armstrong said her water broke.
She said she alerted the nurse to what had happened but was not given the attention warranted.
“She asked me if mi sure a nuh pee. She walk away and another nurse come and ask what do me. I tell her and she ask mi if mi sure. Mi go as far as put mi hand inna the water and show her. She walk weh too. Mi hear a next nurse shout out, 'Give her a bedpan in case anything come out. dem love seh Spanish Town kill dem baby,' ” Armstrong alleged, noting that the pain was “terrible” and had grown “unbearable”.
She said around midnight she was told by the nurse on duty that a doctor had been summoned.
The woman said she continued to reel in pain until some time after 2:00 am when the baby was born.
“No doctor, no drip [IV fluid], nothing. None a dem nuh do nothing. Dem nuh look pon mi. Mi call when mi feel the baby a come out. Mi seh, 'Nurse! She a come.' All dem seh to mi is, 'We can't do nothing. We really can't do nothing. We haffi just wait till doctor come.' Mi seh, 'You don't know how to deliver a baby?' She seh, 'Sorry, we can't do it.' Mi seh, 'Jesus!' ” Armstrong recalled.
“Mi feel more of the baby coming out and mi scream out, 'Nurse! You really can't help me?' Right then and there the baby just drop right out in the bedpan in front of everybody. She nuh do nothing. Nobody help. She just walk weh. Imagine how the pain terrible. Everywhere blood up and the baby under mi in the bedpan,” said Armstrong, who became emotional during the interview.
She told the Sunday Observer that she managed to pull herself together and was able to pick up the infant, whose umbilical cord was still hanging from her vagina.
“I put her on the towel and tell myself that I have to go take out the afterbirth now because that can kill mi. Mi call her again. Mi seh, 'Nurse, not even the afterbirth you can't help mi take out?' She seh, 'Wi really can't do nothing, mum.' That's when I seh I have to get it out and mi push and push until it come out right in front of she and everybody. Nothing dem nuh do; nothing fi help mi,” said Armstrong.
The new mother said she begged the nurses to have her transferred to the maternity ward where she believed she would have been better assisted.
But this did not happen.
Armstrong said that she was instead told to wait and that the doctor was on his way.
“Mi sit down right in front of everybody and push out the baby. Security pass, nurse pass, other people [patients] pass, soldier, everybody. Nobody look pon mi. I take up the baby and the afterbirth and wrap her up in the towel and mi see seh she wasn't dead. Mi see like she was moving her tongue. So mi seh, 'Nurse, see she a move her tongue. Just please carry her go over the maternity ward nuh? She never did a cry, but she was moving.
“She had a faint heartbeat and she did a try fi breathe. Mi seh, 'Nurse, mi baby alive enuh.' She seh, 'Wi really can't do nothing; she haffi go wait pon doctor.' So I'm sitting there in blood, my live baby in my hand, with the afterbirth, and can't do anything fi help her. Mi seh to mi self, 'Dem really a go kill a next baby fi mi? Even if dem take the baby and carry her go over and leave me here suh, mi woulda okay. Leave me here suh, but save the baby.' That's what me a think to myself and seh, but dem nuh do nothing. The nurse go start bathe one lady,” said Armstrong.
She said that after waiting for some time the baby began “turning purple” and her body became cold.
The woman said she sat with her daughter until she “eventually died”.
She said the doctor arrived hours later, around 5:00 am.
“When him come not even 10 minutes him spend with mi because there was nothing for him to do. Nothing. Him seh him want to examine the placenta and mi seh, 'See it right here on mi. Mi push it out.' Him ask, 'Where is the baby?' and mi seh, 'See her right here.' Him ask the nurse for a box and put the baby down in it and from that right there so, it done,” said Armstrong, who recalled feeling numb in that moment.
She said she remained at the hospital until last Thursday when she insisted on being discharged.
“Mi ask dem if dem a go mek mi stay and depression kill mi and a suh dem send mi home,” said Armstrong, who added that she was not aware of anything being placed on her file about the dead baby.
“Up to that time when I was leaving the head doctor didn't know what happened to mi until I tell him. Him seh him nuh see nothing like that on my file. Dem never have nuh record of mi baby. You can imagine? Spanish Town Hospital is the worst hospital in Jamaica. The staff there careless and carefree and, honest to God, that place must transform into a morgue, because honestly, that is what it is,” she told the Sunday Observer.