17 June 2012


Toxaemia is a potentially very serious condition - much more serious than I think either Susan or I realised at the time.  There is a great danger of losing the baby - or the child's being born with severe disorders including brain damage.  It is a name for a syndrome of symptoms rather than the name of a disease.  The symptoms include, especially, high blood pressure.  This threatens the baby's supply of oxygen and nutrients.  Toxaemia may become eclampsia, with maternal convulsions and the danger of death for both mother and child.

Dr Conyngham (properly called "Mr Conyngham" because he was a surgeon, not just a plain-or-garden doctor) put Susan immediately onto anti-hypertensive (anti-high-blood pressure) medication.  She quit her job at World Vision - fortunately she had done a good job of preparing Pat, her successor, to take over - and, in good Victorian fashion, went straight to bed and stayed there.  Her due date was 12 July.  Each week her regular doctor, Dr Blaiklock, whom we had known from Hillsborough Baptist, saw her and monitored her condition.

On Thursday 10 July Dr Conyngham said that Susan must go into hospital to be induced.  Her health was becoming worse and worse.  In the normal course of things, Sue would have gone into "National Women's" - connected with Greenlane Hospital - but Dr Conyngham insisted she must go into "The Mater" - Mater Misericordiae Hospital, now called Mercy Hospital.  This was a little shocking to me.  The Mater was, of course, Catholic.  Dr Conyngham said that that hospital was superior for what he wanted.  We were told by those who knew him that the real reason was because he lived across the street from it - his convenience was what was driving the decision :-)  Well, at least it meant that when he was needed for Susan, there wouldn't be a half-hour drive!

In she went, on Thursday the 10th.  They began injections that morning.  By evening, nothing much had happened.  Friday was when things began to get sticky.  Susan had not really started labour, so they put her on an intravenous drip of some sort - and she spent all day in this situation.

And all night.  The nurses told Susan, after all was over, that she ought to have had a Caeserean section on Friday - but that Dr Conyngham was tied up, giving a party at his house.  Whether this is so or not, it is certainly the case that Sue spent all that time in labour, but without giving birth.  She endured, during most of the Friday (when I was not at the University) my reading aloud to her from a book - one of James Herriot's delightful books about his time as a veterinary surgeon.  I say 'endured' - it is even possible that she enjoyed the reading, as much as was possible under the circumstances.  I think if the roles had been reversed, I would have wanted to kill the reader.  Susan is more patient.

On Saturday morning, the 12th July, Dr Conyngham came in - and immediately told Susan that her baby would be born in an hour and a half.  She did not understand immediately that he intended to deliver the child by Caeserean.
Delivered he was - and none too soon.  He was seriously oxygen-starved.  The nurses had to use oxygen and do other things to keep him breathing for something like 15-20 minutes after delivery, before he could breathe by himself.  Poor Johnny had a hard time coming into the world.

Susan herself was pretty knocked by the experience as well.  A week or two after Johnny was born, she was sent, by Dr Blaiklock, to spend a week at the Auckland Karitane Hospital.  She found that demanding as well.  It was very cold, and the nurses there seemed, she thought, not to think that she really needed to be there.  But at least it gave her a much-needed rest.

It was only some twenty years later that Susan told me about the real strength that bore her up through her ordeal at The Mater.  Perhaps she hadn't liked to mention anything so Catholic to me before, but she says that in fact she fairly quickly forgot about it.

On the Friday morning, when she had already been there for 24 hours, she thought that she was going to die.  So she prayed.  She asked Jesus to take care of her.

He did.  All that day, she tells me, and perhaps all Friday night as well, she saw Him standing in the corner of the room.  The image she had of Him was one with the Lord wearing something on His head, rather like this:

His head was covered, she said He told her, so that only she could see Him.

She asked Him what was going to happen to her.  "You are going to be all right" He said.  I have questioned her moderately closely about this.  It appears that the vision was the sort known as an imaginative vision - not meaning 'not real' but rather 'involving images' - but images in the mind, not ones that independent observers can see, but by contrast with intellectual visions - a certain knowledge of the presence of something.

Susan was never surprised at this happening to her.  She had asked Jesus to help her and he had.  What was there to be surprised at?

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