Female Complaints

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

September mornings, and the sun is finally shining in London. The first flurry of falling leaves are swept up and the pavements look just a little bit fresher, gardens are tidied for winter and their last autumnal blooms wave at us before the summer light fades. Children are back to school and there is a bustle of work, increased traffic on public transport and Boris had some questions to answer in Parliament on Monday afternoon. Which he did, with his hair combed softly – he knew it would be a difficult day – and a promise to fulfill one election pledge by breaking another. Taxes in one form or another must to go up, to pay for the increased health care needs of the country. It is not all the fault of the elderly for living longer – though that could be where to focus some attention. But after the afternoon session in parliament, it is onto the ‘Let’s all have a drink together and get along’ cocktail party hosted by Johnson, and paid for by us, as he tries to keep his friends close and his enemies closer. The Right Honorable Jacob Rees Mogg gave a weak smile before turning his back on the reporters and, with double-vented jacket not showing him to advantage, entering number 10 Downing Street. The Right Honorable Michael Gove may still be in Aberdeen. Luckily Domonic Raab is nowhere to be seen having slipped off to Pakistan trying to find safe passage for those afghans left behind after the British evacuation of Afghanistan. There is no certainty that Raab can return with the needed free pass tickets on his shopping list.

The Right Honorable Jacob Rees Mogg on the bench

We hear less from Afghanistan, but the news stories that do come through are of cruelty and despair, such as the pregnant police woman, Banu Negar, killed in front of her family. There will be no ‘good news’ coming from Kabul until the Taliban control the media outlets and feed news to the Western world. How it is that Secunder Kermani and Lyse Doucet can continue to report for the BBC from Kabul and other parts of Afghanistan is hard to fathom. With a new government not yet formed, and young men on the streets all eager to do something, the Taliban’s promise of ‘No grudges, no revenge’ is proving messy to follow. We hear little of how other countries faired getting their personal out during the Taliban take over and may hear even less about how they might return.

But the Taliban and the new Afghanistan leadership need money. Europe recognizes this and Germany appears to be leading by a nose, sniffing out what opportunities there are still in this land-locked country. Where can a foothold be found that will ensure a western presence to plug the hole of a ship-side leak open to the seas of Russian and Chinese advances?

The Taliban say that women and girls will have full rights ‘under Islamic law’ but Islamic law, like any other law, is subject to interpretation and already new rules about dress and education leave many women and their families fearful. Such strict laws preclude many women from the problems that beset women from other countries and, as has been recently seen – states such as Texas.

The new laws in Texas, banning abortion for whatever reason beyond 6 weeks of gestation, brings fear to this generation of fecund women and some hash memories back to those way past their prime. Seeing the protests in Texas of young women dressed in the red cloak of Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” was as chilling as anything we have seen in America since the beginning of this year. Margaret Atwood says of her 1985 novel “I didn’t put in anything that we haven’t already done, we’re not already doing, we’re seriously trying to do, coupled with trends that are already in progress… So all of these things are real, and therefore the amount of pure invention is close to nil.” It is as if the men of Texas and beyond have said to themselves, ‘Yeah. This is how it should be.’ 

Women in Texas

And that can be the burping misfiring of art, rather like ‘Apocalypse Now’ conceived as the ultimate antiwar film only ofttimes used as a training tool to those young men and women heading out to the deserts and beyond.   

“I tried gin, hot baths, the lot” said my mother recounting her reaction when learning she was pregnant – with me. Not necessarily how one wants to feel welcomed into the world, but no less true because of it. Documented in the Egyptian Ebers Papyrus 1850 BC, ways to prevent an unwanted pregnancy have been sought out and used to various degrees of dissatisfaction, despair, disease and death. Fighting for legal methods of birth control have consumed women, and some men, during the past two centuries, and remains contentious to this day. Those of us who ‘came of age’, in the mid-1960’s still remember the fear of unwanted pregnancies.

A little box of little pills. From the Welcome Trust Museum.

For nurses there were various paths open within hospital systems: volunteering to take patients to the X-ray department, before the mandatory introduction of lead aprons was one; a somewhat-drunken date with a maintenance supervisor who was as handy as any Vera Drake in his day another. And then there were Widow Welch’s Pills. Containing high doses of iron, pennyroyal and juniper and advertised as being very effective in curing ‘Female Obstruction’ they were freely obtainable from Boots the Chemists.

And if prayer, that first and last resort, was also tried and failed, there may be a rushed marriage and definitely expulsion from nursing school. For pregnancy and even marriage made one unsuitable for the profession. Meanwhile those impregnating young doctors graduated into their lives carrying only their memories that faded over time.

This has been A letter from A. Broad

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch

First Aired on Swimming Upstream KWMR.org

Web support by murchstudio.com

1967

Sometimes when I get mad or sad beyond the normal ups and downs of day to day living, I recover by writing poetry which – naturally – makes much of the work unpublishable.

But the political arena of the last weeks in the USA has led me to more sorrow and anger than I have felt for a long time. It is deeply profound with a collective grief that has become personal. Private and public in the same way the wars, famine, floods, fires, shootings and political shenanigans are to any of us thinking and feeling in the world today. Maybe it is that I not only feel these assaults on women as a woman but also as a nurse. Assuredly an old one, but still active in heart and mind and even on occasion in the physical world.

Heartbeat bills in the USA as of May 2019

The governmental legislation occurring in Alabama, Georgia, Ohio, Mississippi, and beyond, leaning hard to the political far right, and the gamesmanship of these politicians, is chilling and terrifying, and reminiscent of a time when …

In 1967 I was working the afternoon 3-11 p.m. shifts in a major Hollywood hospital in Los Angeles County, California. One busy afternoon, shortly after we had come on duty, after the day nurses had left, we were making rounds and checking on our medical patients and the post-surgical patients returning from the recovery room when a phone call came to the nurses’ station. We were to take an emergency admission who would be scheduled for surgery later that evening. Hardly had I put the phone down when a gurney, carrying a young woman, came out of the lift and was hurriedly pushed onto our floor. The orderlies wheeled the gurney into a double room close to the nurses’ station and tipped the patient onto the empty bed. A clipboard with doctor’s order lay over her body.

“Start IV of Dextrose and Saline and insert a nasogastric tube STAT.” was scrawled on it, with a signature. I hardly looked to whom her admitting doctor was, just focused on the fact that she came from the Emergency Unit. Once unstrapped from the gurney and on the bed, she (I want to call her Helen) began thrashing, screaming, and writhing with abdominal pain, while gagging, trying to release whatever was inside her. Doris, my aide, hurried to get the nasogastric set-up and we called for the IV nurse to come to the floor, Stat.

The other team, of one nurse and an aide, were caught up caring for the remaining patients on the floor and there was no-one else around. Helen was beyond hearing me as I tried to explain what I had to do, for and with, her. She was obviously terrified and aside from her not able to hear me she continued to thrash in the bed. We could not hold her steady. So I slapped her. Not hard but I did slap her and I remember it to my shame to this day. But, still terrified, Helen focused on me for the first time, and our eyes remained locked together from then on.

“I need your help. You have to stay with me and let me do this for you.” Having a nasogastric tube inserted is always unpleasant and there are risks attached to the procedure, making sure the tube enters the esophagus and not the trachea and goes to the stomach and not the lungs. As Doris stood by her (and my) side she stroked Helen’s arm giving her calm comfort. I managed to insert her tube correctly and immediately a torrent of brown fluid came up. The IV nurse arrived and started the intravenous fluids into Helen’s veins.

Soon Dr. L., a gynecologist, arrived. He was quick and brisk but also quiet and reassuring as he spoke. Helen was prepped and soon taken to surgery. Later that evening she returned to us. Dr. L. was tight lipped when he too came back to the floor to write up his notes.

We didn’t talk much at the nurses’ station. I was young and naive enough to only begin to understand what had happened to Helen. Who was with her? She had come to us alone but someone, a friend or family member, had got her to Dr. L. and he had managed to save her life if not her uterus. It was clear this was not the first time he had taken such care of a women. His tired face showed that he feared that it would not be the last. Helen recovered, walking the hall carrying her IV pole, catheter and shame. She discarded the IV and the catheter over the next few days, but maybe she took the shame with her when she was finally discharged.

That was 1967, within so many of our life times. Those of us fortunate enough to have lived within relative control of our bodies need to remember to be grateful. Women around the world today still carry unwelcome and dangerous pregnancies. The thought that so many young people within once enlightened societies could again face such a situation is beyond chilling and beyond poetry.