A symphysiotomy victim's story

  • Niall Hunter, Editor

Pauline, from Dublin 2, had a symphysiotomy performed on her at the National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street in November 1963 when she was 20 and having her first child.

She has now been in constant pain for 47 years, has difficuty walking and has kidney problems.

She had a symphysiotomy carried out during a prolonged labour and she could feel herself being cut while the operation was being carried out. "It was horrific; I'll never forget it."

"I've been in pain ever since," she told irishhealth.com. "I've still attending hospitals with back pain and kidney problems."

"I'd go to bed one night and would be ok but the next day I would not be able to get out of the bed, I wouldn't be able to put my feet to the ground, all because of the operation, and I didn't know at the time. I had x-rays taken of my legs to see what was wrong but they couldn't find anything wrong."

Pauline said she knew that the hospital had carried out the operation but didn't know it had been the cause of her medical complaints.

She had heard that Holles Street had stopped carrying out symphysiotomies not long after hers was carried out.

Pauline asked the doctor who carried out her symphysiotomy why he had not done a caesarean section instead.

"At the time I was crying because I couldn't move in the bed, I couldn't feed my baby, I couldn't get up. He said it was because I was too young and he didn't want to leave a scar. I said I'd rather have had a scar than be the way he left me."

She says one of the nurses who was working with her consultant at the time did not agree with him doing the symphysiotomy.

"She was saying she hated having to stand there and watch that operation. She was giving out about it."

Pauline says she got an infection two days after she came home from hospital. "I was taken in an ambulance straight back to Holles Street and I was in isolation for two weeks."

Pauline said she has been in constant pain since the operation was carried out 47 years ago and wishes something more could be done to ease the pain, for which she has never really had proper relief.

"Painkillers help the pain for a while but then I'm back to square one. I'm on the strongest painkillers."

She feels she could get more support from the HSE, although she does have a medical card and taxis are provided to get her to and from hospital.

Pauline has six children and had difficulties with subsequent labours.

She agrees with the claim that many symphysiotomies were carried as a result to the Catholic ethos of some doctors and hospitals, in order to prevent women needing repeated future caesareans and therefore wanting to use birth control.

"I think it really was done for religious reasons. They could have done a caesarean on me instead. I wasn't able to feed the baby or anything. I had to be taught how to walk again. it was so horrific."

Pauline now has a stairlift but she says she only has this as her husband, who passed away last July, was able to get one when he was terminally ill. She applied for one but says she was told she could only get one if she was terminally ill.

Read more on the symphysiotomy controversy here








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