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Updated 22 December 2015

When 'Queen Victoria' delivered a baby

CyberShrink remembers unusual events in his career as a doctor and describes how he delivered a baby dressed as Queen Victoria (he, not the baby).

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In medicine, like in most jobs, days are humdrum, filled with unremarkable, routine events. The occasional surprise does happen, though, and helps to keep us alert and awake, especially when we’re overworked and “underslept”.    

Coconuts in the snow

For instance, I remember one Christmas when I worked in London, when around 3am a tall young man walked into the casualty ward, brushing snow from his shoulders and complaining about sore arms. I asked him what the problem was, and he replied that he had been hit by falling coconuts!

Based on the total lack of coconut palms in London, I found his story somewhat unlikely. Seeing my puzzled expression, he pointed out that he worked at the nearby docks, and, while unloading coconuts, a wrong move sent several hundred projectiles cascading over him. 

Read: Overworked nurses cause serious errors

It’s usually the patient who brings the oddity to these encounters, but sometimes it’s the medical staff that make for strange and special occasions. 

One of the most light-hearted events was probably the time, years ago, when I delivered a baby dressed as Queen Victoria. Just to clarify, I was dressed as the famous royal, and the baby was nude, as they tend to be when coming into the world. 

At the time I was doing obstetrics at a hospital near Farnborough in Kent, south of London. As it grew closer to Christmas, admin announced the hospital would host a fancy dress ball on Christmas Eve, with special prizes. My clinical team consisted of myself, a junior doctor, and some jolly midwives.

For a time we tried to think of individual costumes, but came up with nothing interesting enough on which to want to spend any of our scarce free time. Because it was clear that everyone else was aiming to win individual prizes, we decided to go for the “group prize”.

None of us can remember how we came up with the idea, but we decided to dress up as Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and present ourselves in a four-poster bed. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Our leading midwives would make a splendid royal couple, in bulky gowns with the royal coat of arms colourfully displayed across their chests, modest bedtime crowns and regal hairstyles. The junior doctor and I, covered in gold paint, representing carved figures would carry the canopy over the bed. Anyway, that was the idea . . .  

Role reversals

Soon, however, a problem arose. The midwives were early feminists and decided that our allocation of roles had been too sexist and gender specific for their liking and needed to be revised. We therefore needed to draw lots to determine our role allocations. My junior colleague didn’t like the idea and decided to enter individually as Batman.

The ballot determined that I would portray the queen, so I ended up having to shave off my moustache while Sarah, one of the midwives had to stick on a moustache for her role as Albert. 

Read: Sexist jokes spur violence against women

We felt safe that night as we were only second on call, and nobody could remember the last time the second team had been called out for any kind of emergency. While we were getting ready, we heard that the fist team had been called out, but we were assured that they’d be back very soon.

That turned out not to be the case and just as we’d finished our round at the end of the Grand Parade, our bleepers and pagers went off en masse. We had no time to change, and outside there was an ambulance waiting for us. Someone arrived with our bag of instruments, transfusion sets and bottles of blood, so we piled into the vehicle and bounced off down the road. 

We were told that there was a woman with a risky pregnancy who had just gone into premature labour at a chicken farm in our area. Before long we were rattling down farm lanes, and screeched to a halt in front of the farm house.   

Unflappable

You have to admire the British for their calm, unflappable politeness.  They must have been really anxious about the imminent birth, and as they gazed across the snowy lawn, they were treated to the sight of Queen Victoria and Batman leaping out of an ambulance and bounding towards them through the snow. Yet they welcomed us calmly as though this was the most normal thing ever. There wasn’t time to explain either, as I gathered up my skirts and dashed upstairs. 

Read: Watch the first ever MRI video of a child being born

Nobody commented or so much as raised an eyebrow. Again, what remarkable composure! Nobody had had a moment to explain or to prepare the expectant mom for the surprise, but she also asked no questions as we burst into her bedroom. She just waved cheerily as we set to work.

Fortunately, everything went smoothly and soon everyone was admiring a healthy, bonny baby boy. My crown had slipped askew and Batman looked somewhat the worse for wear. We had a nice hot cup of tea in the kitchen and then headed back to the hospital.

As I left, the proud father patted my arm and said: “Thanks a million doc, can we name the child after you?” Of course I agreed, and as we were driving back, I realized I hadn’t actually given him my name. So somewhere in Kent there’s a farmer’s son, presumably called "Victor". I’ve often wondered whether his parents ever told him of the unusual circumstances of his birth, and the “celebrities” who attended it.

Read more:

Cross-dressing and other fetishes

500 000 die giving birth: UNICEF

Nightmares haunt new moms

Professor MA Simpson is Health24's CyberShrink. A South African psychiatrist, he qualified in medicine and in psychiatry in Britain. He has been a senior academic, researcher, and Professor in several countries. Read more of his columns.

 

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