The next few months were busy. As always reports were needed and funding bids – I laboured over one from WHO which, from diary entries seemed to take forever to complete (all those objectives, outputs and activities) –meetings and travelling. Quetta weather was becoming colder and wetter. It rained solidly for five days, ending with a terrific thunderstorm (and several leaks in our roof) then it became colder and the pipes froze so we had no water and the gas pressure was so low there was scarcely any heat from the fires. The staff was fetching water from the nearby mosque but even after leaving the buckets to sit for hours it was still dirty looking. A trip to Karachi let me soak up some much needed sunshine.
We had meetings in Peshawar in North West Frontier Province where we were woken on our last night by an earthquake. We’d become accustomed to earth tremors in Quetta but this one shook the bed, rattled the windows and made a terrifying noise. We learned a few days later around 1,000 people were killed across the border in Afghanistan and flooding afterwards caused further deaths.
Oh, and the First Gulf War, when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait began. Quetta was suddenly emptied of expat workers. We were provided with two armed policemen at night – not quite sure what anyone thought was going to happen. Anyway, they enjoyed dinner with us and on the only occasion the dog barked, they sent young Sultan out to check what was going on. I think they must have been sorry when their bosses told them they were no longer required to protect us.
Jon had brought Sughra back with him from Jaghoray. We’d offered to send her to school in Quetta and, in exchange, she would help me with the baby. The school was closed when she arrived and she wanted to be with me all day, standing beside my desk watching me type. Poor girls was probably horribly homesick. Once she started school she loved it and was an extremely cheerful presence in our lives.
I needed that. One diary entry reads: “I’m scared. I’m scared about the baby, about the hospital, about who will do the delivery, about the baby not being healthy – and I’m terrified about the future and my ability to look after a baby.”
I was still visiting the anti-natal clinic. We upset her by saying we didn’t feel happy about having the baby in Civil Hospital, especially as she’d said Jon could not be with me. We chose, instead, a small private hospital. Dr Shahnaz pointed out the private hospital did not have all the hi-tech equipment available at Civil Hospital. I think she was insulted – she is in charge of Civil – but I saw no point in having access to special equipment when the walls are growing fungus.
On March 20, the night before the Afghan New Year, Jon, Sughra and I went shopping. It’s customary to have new clothes for the New Year and we thought as well as treating Sughra we should buy some clothes for the baby, due in about ten days. Poor thing only had a couple of little jackets sent by its grandmother.
When I got up to pee in that night, I noticed there was some blood-streaked mucous. I went back to bed but when I woke in the morning there was more blood. Jon phoned Dr Shahnaz who told us to come to Civil Hospital immediately. I’d had a few contractions but nothing much. I didn’t pack anything as I assumed I’d be told there was plenty of time, we’d come home and pack and head for the private clinic.
Dr Shahnaz examined me then sent me to another room for a foetal heart monitor. The machine had no plug, just bare wires which the nurse stuck into the socket. I wondered if my baby was going to be electrocuted. To my relief, the machine didn’t work. Dr Shahnaz found the heart beat with a stethoscope. She said labour had started, but the head was not engaged and she wanted me to stay in the hospital until 7pm to be monitored – just in case. ‘You may need a Caesarean. I will discuss with your husband.’
Before I could say any such discussion would be with me, she noticed the pad I’d just changed. ‘What’s this?’ she demanded.
I peered at the brownish/greenish stains. ‘Um, meconium, I think.’
‘And what does this mean?’
I shook my head, feeling like a medical student about to fail an exam.
‘Baby is in distress. No time to wait – we need to do a Caesarean.’
I burst into tears. ‘I want to have a normal delivery.’
The doctor tut-tutted at me. ‘I promise, you will be having a delivery and a baby.’
Still wearing the clothes I’d arrived in, I walked into the operating theatre and climbed on the table, being careful not to let my dirty feet touch the catheter lying ready at the end of it. Jon, of course, was left outside. Two anaesthetists were present. I handed one of them my glasses.
The next thing I remember was being wheeled on a trolley somewhere outside. I could feel rain on my face and it was cold. I was taken inside again and transferred to a bed. The porter, wanting me to look neat and tidy, pulled on my ankles to straighten my legs. The pain where I’d been sliced open was excruciating and I pulled my knees up. He pulled my legs straight again. ‘Leaving my fucking legs alone,’ I hissed. He may not have understood the exact words but he understood the message.
Jon came to my rescue, persuaded the porter he should leave – and told me we had a son. He was asleep in a cot beside my bed. He opened his eyes and looked at me and I was lost.
We were given exclusive use of what was a four-bed ward and Jon was able to stay with us, which was a relief and he was able to take over my care. I’d panicked a bit when I saw air bubbles in the syringe the nurse was wielding. They also had a habit of cracking open glass phials and leaving the shards of glass on the floor. Most days, either the blood pressure set or thermometer had gone missing. As a thank you for the all they’d done we bought some blood pressure sets which fastened to the wall.
The moment Jon left the room, other patients and nurses swarmed in to look at the little white baby – usually waking him up after I’d just got him to sleep. I was so thankful when, after ten days, I was discharged and could go home. To a very different life!