by Gail Graham
As a retired surgical nurse, I have experiences with abortions in California when abortion laws were changed. Prior to the change in laws, we occasionally had to deal with the results of failed (illegal) abortions, but those are stories for another time.
Working in California once the laws changed, I was required to assist with early term abortions, as I was not Catholic. I dealt with it professionally. I specified with management of surgery that I wished not to assist with late term abortions. At that time, some physicians were performing “saline injections” as a means to induce labor to terminate the pregnancy. This leads to my horrific experience.
I was working the late shift on the particular day, so I was assigned to assist as the scrub nurse with a scheduled “C-section.” Initially, I was not aware of all of the reasons for the C-section, but soon learned when the OB surgeon started the procedure. Apparently, the saline injection had not been completely successful, but most likely caused serious damage to the fetus. Thus, the reason for this “emergency C-section”! Though I was not happy being in that situation, I had no choice at that point, as I would have been charged with abandoning my patient if I stepped out.
The “procedure” was happening very quickly, and the fetus was delivered, and handed off to me. Pardon me, but there is no delicate way for me to describe the scenario. My primary point here is that the fetus was viable, meaning the fetus was breathing. It was my worst nightmare in my nursing career. I had no support, especially not from the surgeon and his assistant. I did not know what to do, so I asked the circulating nurse that was my assistant, to call the pathologist and ask how I was to care for the fetus.
I was ultimately advised to treat it like any specimen! Usually, a specimen that is removed is placed in a container with formaldehyde, and sent to the pathology department to be examined and evaluated. This was 48 years ago, but I have never forgotten. Writing this is very painful.
To the best of my recollection, I watched it stop breathing, and there was nothing I could do, but hold it – I guess. I have managed to block some of the details between the delivery from the womb to transfer to pathology. I do not recall how we did that, exactly. I was so upset that it was stillborn and going to pathology. Possibly pathology cared for it appropriately, but I’ll never know.
I approached management in surgery, but they all turned a blind eye. I am sharing this so as to address the issue of medical personnel, nurses, who are forced to assist with such procedures, against their wishes, whether it be religious or ethical. It doesn’t matter.
I am concerned about a recent situation at UVMMC, as well as continued discussion about not acknowledging any reasoning. That is wrong. We medical folks have been trained to safe lives, and have taken oaths to do so, to the best of our ability.
The author is a retired registered nurse and Calais resident.