Liam Farrell: A lesson learnt from Captain Hindsight

Many years ago, when I was a lad, young and free of care, I worked in a far distant country. The practice was very rural and included a small hospital.

All of the partners had their own specialty - GP/surgeon, GP/obstetrician, GP/anaesthetist. As I had some experience in neonatology, I was the GP required to attend caesarean sections in case resuscitation was needed.

On one occasion the baby came out flat and there were 30 seconds of pure panic before it began to revive. As I left the delivery suite, I encountered the father. Tradition dictates it is the obstetrician's privilege to pass on the good news, but when the father asked me what had happened, such was my relief that I momentarily forgot my place.

'Congratulations,' I said, 'you have a beautiful baby ...' I paused for a moment, trying to think.

During perinatal resuscitation, when on one side you are looking at a beautiful, healthy baby and moments of immense joy, and on the other, a tragedy and a lifelong sentence not just for the baby but also for the whole family, when you know every second counts, when you're keeping an eye on all the different parameters, when you're trying to remain calm and portray an image of control to the staff, when you're in a foreign country hundreds of miles from any help, when you know you are the most experienced person present and the buck stops with you, probably the last thing you will look at is whether the baby has goolies or not.

'... boy,' I said. 'A boy,' he yelled, jumping up and down with delight. 'I have three daughters; that's wonderful, thanks. I must call the grandparents.'

A few minutes later, a nurse called me. 'You told that man he had a boy,' she said sternly. 'It's a girl.'

Well, I was young and stressed. These things happen. I ran back to the ward before the father could tell the world how his family name would now be safely passed down the generations. He was very decent about it, I must say.

And did I learn anything, any advice from Captain Hindsight? Yes. Next time, I said, 'Congratulations, it's a baby.'

  • Dr Farrell is a GP from County Armagh. Follow him on Twitter @drlfarrell.

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