A New Deckhand
After riding out another storm in the fishing boat harbour, which featured dead bodies washed out through storm water drains, we decided we could not stay in Valparaiso. We had made friends there and the chief mate had found a doctor she was comfortable with but life seemed too precarious.
We had a slow trip north looking for a sheltered harbour and a good clinic. Our last option was Arica, just 20 miles from the border with Peru. We found a friendly yacht club, a town with parks and gardens and a hospital with a doctor named Ricardo who pronounced mother and baby well. Whew.
In a few weeks we were among friends, including the honorary British Consul, Gladys, who introduced us around town. We became infamous as the crazy gringos having a baby on a yacht and our story was featured on TV and newspaper. Weekly examinations showed sonar scan and electronic heart monitor were okay. The chief mate went into labour early one morning and I got her to hospital pronto. She was in emergency for an hour or so until the staff could round up Ricardo. She was in labour for two days, moaning and groaning. Then Ricardo took me aside and said the baby was in distress and he recommended a Caesarean section. That sounded serious to me but what did I know?
Within twenty minutes she was on the operating table with me in cap and gown watching through the window of the observation room. She was sitting up on the table quite naked with arms crossed over her breasts while the doctors and attendants scrubbed up. Ricardo gave her a spinal injection and they stretched her out like Jesus Christ on the cross while waiting for the anaesthetic to take effect. It clearly wasn’t working. Every time they told her to raise a leg she complied willingly. After a few minutes Ricardo gave her another injection in the arm and she went out.
Pandemonium broke out with Ricardo and his assistant slicing her belly open while the anaesthetist and her assistant shoved a duct down her throat and, frantically it seemed to me, clapped a rubber mask over her nose and mouth and began fiddling with oxygen bottles. A nurse ran from the theatre to an adjoining room and ran back with a tray of instruments.
Next thing I remember is peering up into the bearded face of a young doctor asking me if I was all right. I was lying on my back on the stone-tiled floor with the world spinning before my eyes and my blood-stained cap on my chest. I had a glimpse of a tiny, squealing kicking baby before someone brought a trolley and they loaded me on it and wheeled me off to the casualty room. After an examination they transferred me to a wheel chair and and took me to another room where the new mother lay in bed looking pale and groggy with my son in the crook of her arm, already searching for the breast.
It seemed like half the population of Arica turned out for the baby’s head wetting at the yacht club a couple of weeks later. We were bombarded with baby clothes and toys and people slapping us on the back saying “Que lindo, la wha wha.” (How beautiful the baby.)
Yes indeed. How clever of me to produce such a beautiful child.