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Sunday, May 23, 2004

We have a baby, now what?

Mom and Campbell came home today. Now that there is no button to push for "Call Nurse," it hits us that the two of us have full responsibility for Campbell and her well-being. No matter how much you have read and studied on the internet, I think any reasonable adult recognizes the immense responsibilities that come with being a parent. Those who are overeducated perhaps also tend to freak about the little things moreso than others. Therefore, there were lots of questions we asked nurses and doctors that were never answered.

A few insights into the health care system were gleaned over the weekend. Our local hospital was nothing but professional about things when it came to taking care care of mom and baby. However, our pregnancy and delivery went so easy compared to many of the others that took place that weekend, I think we were a bit overlooked. Linda would ask for a nurse to come help with whatever and it might take 30 or 40 minutes for them to respond. Looking around, it was clear that nurses were busy doing something, just not helping my wife. In the end, nurses have to make decisions as to what is important and what isn't and I understand that.

On the other hand, nurses are not necessarily universal angels of mercy we romanticize them to be. Nurses are, like professors, cops, lawyers, mechanics, regular people with the same regular foibles that we all have. Some examples included "lies" or "mistakes," depending on your charity, about what one nurse had told my wife and then reported to others. This happened on more than one occasion - nothing important to diagnosis or overall health care, but stupid things like whether a nurse had discussed the proper changing of diapers, whether the lactation consultant had been notified that Linda wanted to see her, whether pain medicine had ever been offered after delivery.

The other frustrating aspect of the health care system is the unwillingness, inability, or legal Catch-22 that nurses and doctors find themselves in when it comes to answering questions straightforwardly. I get better answers from my barber and mechanic than from just about every medical professional I came in contact with. Linda's labor lasted 3.5 hours, which I think is fast for a first pregnancy, but you would never know it from the answers that we received to the question. Indeed, no one would commit to how long labor might be expected to last, whether her contractions seemed strong or weak given the amount of time they had been going on, and in the end things went so fast that the "page the doctor" call went out. Ultimately, the answer to just about every question about pregnancy, delivery, recovery, baby status, mother status, and what the weather was like outside, was "everyone is different." Well, no shit, but such an answer is completely worthless.

How long until her stomach will return to "normal?" Seems like a reasonable question for a first-time mother. Answer, "from one day to a year. Everyone is different." Very frustrating. I don't know if they are unwilling to "go out on a limb" for fear of litigation or what, but the answer given is really the ultimate non-answer. If that is all it takes to be a nurse/doctor, hell I can do that. Think of how good at forecasting we economists could be if, when asked about next month's unemployment figures we could just say something like "well, every month is different. Unemployment could go up, go down, or stay the same, who can really tell about these things." Rrrrrrr.

A final interesting issue was the overnight nursery. In my romanticized view of the hospital nursery there are rows of new-born babies, many crying, some sleeping, some wriggling, but most of all they were in one room. In this single room of screaming children, there is some nurse who is either deaf, has earplugs, or has the patience of Job goes around and looks after the babies. The upshot is that fathers and family members can point and stare through the glass at the newbies and, more importantly, mom can get some sleep. In our hospital, the baby could stay in the nursery as long as the baby was quiet. Fussy babies were sent back to mom. Now, this make sense if one wants to make sure that one baby doesn't cause a chain reaction of other babies crying and screaming. But who benefits from this? It seems that the nurses stand to gain the most. Individual mothers whose kids are fussy do not get any sleep, only those mothers who kids are well behaved. An interesting moral hazard problem.

Oh well. I have spent a considerable number of years avoiding the health care system, and therefore I probably have no business being critical of the system. After all, we did have a healthy baby and I still have my wife. I have been blessed in my life that I haven't had to spend much time in hospitals for myself, or my family, over the past twenty years. Hopefully, I will have the same blessings in the years to come.

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