Real Life

Swine flu mum: “Please save my baby”

oum-to-be Perawai Hurunui had barely heard of swine flu as she packed her bags for the birth of her first baby. Carefully folding up little singlets and tiny socks, she was too busy looking forward to holding her newborn in her arms to worry about reports of a new, potentially deadly, flu strain. Within a few days, however, Perawai (24) would be lying in Christchurch Women’s Hospital, watching in horror as her baby’s heart rate plunged on the monitor beside her. When she arrived at hospital to have her labour induced, having gone two weeks past her due date, Perawai was in perfect health. At the first signs of a sore throat she dismissed it as just the start of a common cold but by that night, Perawai’s temperature had soared, and as her labour pains grew stronger so did the flu symptoms. As she became more and more unwell, and her unborn baby began to show signs of being gravely affected by her fever, Perawai became terrified.

Her fear grew more acute when her partner Losefa Puni (29) was sent away from her beside because he too started showing symptoms of swine flu. Soon the painful contractions and illness ended up overpowering Perawai. and she became exhausted. “I went downhill fast,” she remembers. “I was crying a bit. I felt hot and cold and the baby’s heartbeat kept dropping. It was devastating to see. My midwife was really worried. They had given me paracetamol but it didn’t really do anything, and they had tried to induce me and broken my waters but my labour was coming on so slowly.

I just couldn’t handle it.” Concerned for Perawai and her baby, doctors decided to perform an emergency caesarean. “Please save my baby,” Perawai prayed silently as she was rushed along the hospital corridors to the operating theatre. “I was so sick that my brain wasn’t functioning properly. I knew his heart wasn’t coping. I was very worried for my baby,” says Perawai. Fortunately, little Devani was born in good health, despite being affected by his mum’s swine flu. But for Perawai, the heartache didn’t end with his safe arrival. “Nobody was allowed to see me,” Perawai says angrily. “Even my partner wasn’t allowed to see his son. In fact, he didn’t see Devani until two days later, when I left the hospital. Someone could have given him a mask and gown so he could see his boy.” Swine flu was confirmed the day after Devani’s birth, and Perawai was given Tamiflu to ease the symptoms. “I had to wear a mask over my mouth at all times and it’s quite hard to breathe in those things.

In the end I just took it off. I felt like I was being suffocated.” on the first night, still numb from the caesarean, she tried to reach her son’s crib when he began crying. She claims it took an hour for someone to come to her aid. “He started screaming and screaming so I ended up having to lean over the rail to grab him. An hour later they came.” Every time Perawai rang for a nurse, she says it took them at least 20 to 30 minutes to attend to her, saying they were busy. But an upset Perawai fears it was because they didn’t want to get swine flu from her. “When they came they would stand at the curtain, pop their head round and ask, ‘What do you want?’ I ended up ringing my mother in the middle of the night because I was so upset.” Even after her mother spoke to a nurse manager about Perawai’s problems, the situation didn’t improve. “That night, I needed some help with breastfeeding but no one came for 30 minutes.

I didn’t want to stay for another night so I left. They couldn’t wait to get rid of me. I don’t want it to happen to anybody else and I’m planning to make a formal complaint.” Nigel oillar, Chief oedical officer at Canterbury District Health Board, says he was very disappointed to hear of Perawai’s experience. “The swine flu pandemic is a challenge for all health care professionals and we are working hard to minimise the effect it has on the way we provide care,” he says. Four weeks after the birth and fully recovered from swine flu, Perawai is just thankful she can put her swine flu horror behind her and concentrate on her new baby boy, who has remained healthy. “We’re all doing well,” she says. “And I’m just so happy to be home.”

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