Northern Dispatches

Swedish health-care staff actually care about us

Swedish health-care staff actually care about us
After the birth of his two bonny baby girls, former Londoner Paul Connolly swoons over Swedish healthcare's 'just the right side of hands off' approach that left him feeling safe despite his wife's swollen elephant trotters and high blood pressure.

You gotta love the Swedish health service. I sped my pregnant girlfriend into hospital a couple of weeks ago with complications – her feet swelled up to the size of elephant trotters and her usual freakishly low blood pressure almost capsized the monitor with its relentless upward trajectory.

We were taken straight to the maternity ward, offered a choice of private rooms and told to relax. Donna was then subjected to a systematic testing process that told the staff exactly what was going on with her. After an overnight stay, two doctors, Rolf and Hannah, came to our room and informed us that they would be performing a Caesarian section the next day to remove our 33-week-old twins a full seven weeks early.

It was all a little bewildering. But by 1pm the following afternoon, I was holding Caitlin and Leila, two stupendously bonny baby girls. I may have shed a tear or two. I may even have hugged a couple of bewildered doctors, a few midwives and a passing cleaner. But I didn’t care. It was, quite simply, amazing.

The whole process up here in northern Sweden has been terrific. Right from the start the care has been pitched at exactly the right level – just the right side of hands-off. Until the late complications we’d had a simple pregnancy so we mainly saw our barnmorska (midwife) and a doctor every few weeks for an ultraljud (scan).

What struck me first about the hospitals up here was how uncrowded and efficient they were. If we had an 11am appointment, the appointment would take place at 11am. In the UK an 11am appointment is purely indicative of the day in which you might be seen. They may as well just offer you an AM or PM slot, like some delivery companies – it would be just as accurate.

There was another remarkable difference between the UK and Sweden. I have had mainly good dealings with the UK’s NHS but some of the staff employed would be better suited to working with delinquent sharks – they’re about as caring as a needle in the eye. The staff here were born to be in healthcare. They’re compassionate, caring, knowledgeable and, generally, good company. Their people skills are first rate.

Some of the nurses, however, are a little too fierce in their advocacy of breastfeeding. One bespectacled bore even advised us to use breast milk to treat skin conditions and backache. She was obsessed with breast milk. During a conversation about our endless house renovation project, I was a little surprised that she didn’t suggest it as an excellent alternative to exterior paint, and then slip out a little hip flask and take a nip of the “white gold”.

The doctors, though, are more pragmatic – they recommend breastfeeding for as long as the mother is comfortable with it but no more.

Twelve days after the birth we’re still in the family unit of the hospital. We have our own room with TV, DVD player and private bathroom. The team here want to make absolutely sure that the girls are ready to come home with us but want to ensure we have plenty of time to bond with them before we do. In the meantime we’re picking up tips from professionals on how to look after our children; it’s been invaluable.

I have a friend in the UK who has just given birth to a premature baby. Her experience has been somewhat different. “I had my C-section on the Monday and stayed on the postnatal ward until the Thursday. My son was in the neonatal unit and I had to get down two corridors and through the labour ward to get to him. The first day I was taken in a wheelchair but after that I had to walk, or rather shuffle there and back. I then had to leave. I have to deliver his breast milk twice a day and then go home. It’s heartbreaking.”

I really do know how lucky I am to be in Sweden.

Paul Connolly

Read more from Paul here, including his Northern Dispatch column

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