Last day as an obstetric anaesthetist

I’ve just said goodbye to my labour ward colleagues, a part of my life that began 31 years ago. My anaesthetic career started a little bit longer than that. My career plan was Obs and Gynae. I am not sure what drew me towards a life in the labour ward, but the College Dean wanted me to do a year in another specialty before I started working in my chosen path. A few locum jobs in general medicine and geriatric medicine later I settled for an anaesthetic job. I was only going to do it for a year or so I thought. Sidcup was the place. A friendly small department consisting of four consultants, three staff grades and some junior doctors. One of the consultants was Dr Ostelere, the wife of Richard Gordon. She liked me and was upset once when the author came to visit and she couldn’t introduce me as I wasn’t around that day. I started enjoying anaesthetics and found out that Sir Ivan Magill used to work at Sidcup and many of his inventions stemmed from his days at Sidcup. I was hooked and there began my interest in a career I had never considered before. Sidcup was too far for me to commute and I looked for a position nearby after I had my daughter. There was a vacancy at Oldchurch Hospital. I rang the department and was asked to come for an informal interview. 

It was a cold and drab winter morning when I took the bus and found my way to the hospital and the first time I met Dr Kapoor. A short interview later I was asked when I can join and that was it. I was given a short period to get acquainted and then was posted in my first obstetric duty. Dr Kapoor was the sole consultant anaesthetist covering the labour ward. If I remember correctly Wednesdays was his day in the labour ward. The other days the juniors ran the department. These were the days before the arrival of pencil point spinal needles and elective sections were done with epidurals. It took 40 minutes to work once the needle was in and the top ups started. If it failed or for emergencies general anaesthetic was the only alternative. My very first epidural request came on my first on call duty. I had just sat down to a meal at the canteen when the call came. I couldn’t get the epidural in. The midwife called Dr Kapoor and I waited thinking of my now cold meal which I never got to eat. After that I only remember calling a consultant to help out once more for another failed attempt. 

Two years later I moved on. Medway, Brighton and Kings College later, I applied for a consultant post at the hospital I started my obstetric anaesthetic career. This time the interview was a much more formal affair with even a sherry party thrown in the day before. Kanthi, Indira and I started our consultant jobs together in 1997. Although the maternity part had moved from Rush Green to Haroldwood, I knew the staff and some of the midwives. I was coming back home and the laid back attitude showed when I overslept and was late on my very first day in the job. There was no induction in those days and my elective section patients were waiting patiently for me when I finally arrived that morning. 

The obstetric anaesthetic department had expanded from one consultant to three with my appointment. The second consultant being Dr Haque who was my consultant from my very first job at Sidcup. The arrangement continued for another ten years when we merged with King George’s Hospital and the department expanded. 

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