Valuing the Lives of Women?: A Nurse’s Experience in a Catholic Hospital

6 Aug

I had taken care of her before. It was the exactly a year before when I had met her. She had lost her baby then, she was losing this baby as well. It was heartbreaking. This baby was wanted. This baby was loved. This baby had a name. She had requested me as her nurse.

Despite the horrible circumstances, she smiled when I walked into her room. She hugged me and we both started to cry. How could life be so cruel? Losing a baby is a tragedy. Losing a baby on a holiday is terrible. Now she was going to lose her second baby on the same holiday. She was only 20 weeks pregnant, but her water had broken. An ultrasound showed that there was no fluid left inside. But there was a heartbeat. The fetus was still alive.

Unfortunately, I worked at a Catholic hospital. Despite the fact that there was no way this baby was going to survive and the mom had the beginnings of a horrible infection, hospital policy was that my patient had to remain pregnant. If she were at another hospital, we could do a d&c or at least induce labor. Both would help get rid of the infection and ease some of my patient’s suffering. We were not forced to employ measures to prolong the pregnancy, but we were not allowed to do anything to hasten delivery.

For hours she remained in bed, feverish and miserable. I gave her antibiotics and medications to try and bring down the fever. I gave her ice chips, cooling blankets, anything to help her physically. There was little I could do to help with her emotional pain. I just held her hand and listened. She begged me to do something to make the baby come out. I told her there was nothing I could do, we had to wait for labor to come along naturally.

The next day her fever got worse, her condition became unstable. She was going into shock. Her provider came into the room and asked me to get the ultrasound. I brought it into the room and she asked me to leave. A few minutes later, the provider came out and told me there was no longer a heartbeat. She documented no heartbeat in the patient’s medical record. She wrote an order to start pitocin to induce labor. A few hours later, the baby was born. Dad cut the cord and the baby was placed in the mothers arms. We left them alone to say goodbye to their child.

I will never know if there really was no heartbeat when that provider asked me to leave the room that night. If there was a heartbeat, she put her career at risk to save that patients life and end her suffering. By asking me to leave, she made sure I would not be held accountable if she was found out. This wasn’t the first time I had been put in a situation like this with a patient and a provider. It is a common occurrence at Catholic hospitals. Doctors, Midwives and Nurses have their hands tied by Catholic dogma every day. Women are put in danger. Women are forced to suffer.

No woman should have to risk their life to maintain a life that will not survive outside the womb. No woman should have to go through the emotional torture that woman went through over that holiday weekend. No provider should have to risk their career to give compassionate care to a patient.


9 Responses to “Valuing the Lives of Women?: A Nurse’s Experience in a Catholic Hospital”

  1. S.L August 7, 2010 at 2:15 pm #

    This hits somewhat close to home. My mother recently told me a that when she had to go to the hospital (Georgetown Hospital in D.C) for preterm labor (my brother was born at six months) and was informed the dangers of the labor, there was a chance the baby wouldn’t live and was offered the chance for late term termination. My parents didn’t want to, they wanted to proceed with labor. While in the hospital, my mom learned from other mothers there that they were being watched constantly by certain religiously-affiliated staff members like hawks in case someone decided they wanted to terminate – they were prepared to serve legal papers to the patients to delay the procedure.
    Thought makes me sick to my stomach.

  2. NYCprochoiceMD August 10, 2010 at 6:08 am #

    It is horrible that the quality of care a woman gets depends on what kind of hospital she goes to. It’s always horrible to deny anyone necessary care, but when it puts someone’s life at risk it is unconscionable.

    Catholic hospitals are also known for their failure to follow written advance directives to withhold nutrition and hydration for patients at the end of life. This means that someone could end up with a tube in his or her stomach for feeding against his or her express wishes, even though it has not been shown to improve quality of life or to prolong life.

  3. Tess August 18, 2010 at 11:34 am #

    I am not surprised to hear this. I have a girl friend with awful endometriosis and the Catholic hospital put her through a dozen awful and invasive tests before telling her they could do nothing. She went another healthcare system and was told they’d schedule her for an ablation the following week on the first consultation! The policy of suffering is ridiculous.

  4. S.K. December 24, 2010 at 9:01 pm #

    that’s so bad that they make people suffer like this. i’m glad the provider stepped in & did something. people should stop going to hospitals like this & boycott them. there is no other way to end this.

  5. K. P. January 4, 2011 at 2:46 pm #

    this is actually medical neglect. to refuse to inform the patient of all her options, including the possibility of leaving the hospital to seek care that another hospital could provide, is simply unethical. I understand and respect your empathy for the patient and the difficult place the hospital was putting you in, but I also think we ought to use ethics in our care. signed, a pro-choice midwife.

  6. DeliveryNurse January 6, 2011 at 12:10 am #

    K.P.- We did not neglect our patient. We both told her before she became septic that she could go to another hospital to seek treatment. There were many factors for her choosing to stay with us. She knew the CNM and I, we had cared for her during her first delivery of a healthy baby and cared for her when she lost her last baby. Our hospital is the only hospital in the county, she wanted to stay in town where she had family and friends to support her, her husband and their living child. She had spoken with a CPM to see if she could go home and get care there, but the CPM refused. Please do not accuse us of something as serious as medical neglect when you do not know all of the details. I do my best to make sure my patients know all their options when they are under my care. That is why this was so hard. The patient chose to stay at my hospital because she felt safer with her CNM and RN, she knew our hands were tied and she chose to stay anyway.

  7. KM April 4, 2011 at 7:18 am #

    I’m both Catholic and pro-choice (yes, you can navigate both terrains, though it is tricky). As you can imagine, this whole scenario drives me up a wall. What bothers me the most, however, is that I could end up in that same situation.

    It makes me sad that people of my own faith would rather have me die and have me lose my kid than to give me care that, while it can’t save my baby, it could save me. It angers me that they would expect their doctors and nurses to violate an oath in order to preserve one aspect of their teachings while forgetting most of the rest. It pisses me off that they can be so hypocritical. Even the Church teaches that yes, it is permissible to save the woman’s life if you can’t save the baby’s. I guess it’s just not politically convenient for American Catholic authorities to admit this.

    People always tell me to find another church. The problem is, I cannot. There is a lot more to faith than the authorities. After intense study of different forms of Christianity, it’s really the only one I can identify with. However, I do use my faith as a form of advocacy, as a reason to do justice. I try to dialog with other Catholics and remind them of our obligations to other people, that Christ even said to focus more on people than on the laws. I also point out inconsistencies (like automatic excommunication for an abortion but then saying woman aren’t culpable). Or that there has never been an infallible statement on abortion.

    I don’t think I can change the Church itself and it would be arrogant of me to even think that. However, I do what I can.


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