How Do I Call The Ambulance?

I put down my brush. A splotch of vivid green spreads on the rag as the bristles are still thick with paint. Placing both hands in the pit of my spine I rub at the muscles as I stretch back.
I feel like having a lie down. But first I need to finish this colour. Then I can let it dry. I make myself keep going.
I am painting the tips of the ferns that grow at the edge of the waterfall’s base when I feel it. A sharp cramp like a period. I wince. It goes away.
Then something else, a glob of fluid that fills my pants. Blood. It is on my fingers when I check.
This cannot be happening. I don’t know what to do. I stand still.
A trickle runs down my leg. Then more. I take a step back. The front of my cotton dress sticks to the inside of my thigh. The pale yellow material is now turning crimson.
I have to stop it.
I cup my hand between my legs to try and staunch the flow, but it is only a few seconds before my hand fills.
I begin shaking. My breath shortens. I waddle towards the toilet.
No please please no.
I will do anything, if only the bleeding will stop.
The bathroom door is shut.
My fingers are slippery; they will not grip. I wipe them on my front. The handle turns and I shoulder open the door. A horror greets me in the bathroom mirror: blood on my dress, my arms, my face.
Lifting up my hem, I kick off my knickers and drop on the seat.
The insides of the bowl run with red.

Naked except for a hand towel pressed between my legs I make my way across the landing. I pick up the phone. With one hand holding the towel I use my thumb to dial.
‘Hi,’ Daniel says.
‘Danny ——’
‘This is the mobile phone of Dan Harrison. Sorry I can’t answer now. Please leave a message.’
I hang up and dial his work.
‘Cranbourne Surgical Day Centre,’ the receptionist says. ‘How can I help you?’
‘I need to speak to Daniel,’ I say.
‘Sorry, who’s Daniel?’ she says. ‘Is he a patient here?’
‘Dr Daniel McNeal,’ I say. ‘I need him now!’
‘May I ask who’s calling?’
‘I’m his wife. I need to speak to him urgently.’
‘I’m paging him now.’
Music comes down the line as I hunch by the wall, waiting.
‘Still paging,’ the receptionist says.
Music again.
‘Putting you through.’
‘Hello.’ He sounds harried.
‘Danny,’ I say. I begin to cry.
‘Megan?’ he says. ‘What’s wrong?’
‘I’ve been bleeding,’ I manage to say.
‘What do you mean?’ he says. ‘Are you still bleeding?’
‘I’m not sure. I think it’s stopped.’
‘Are you all right?’ he says.
‘I don’t know. I’m feeling a bit dizzy. There was so much blood. I’m worried I’m losing the baby.’
‘Are you in pain?’
‘Not any more,’ I say. ‘I had some cramping but it’s gone now.’
‘Can you feel the baby move?’ Daniel asks.
‘Not really. I’m not sure.’
Pressing my thighs together to keep the towel in place I run my hand up over my bump.
‘Megan? Megan, are you there?’
‘What should I do? I can’t feel it moving.’
‘Maybe it’s just asleep,’ Daniel says.
‘What if it’s not asleep?’
‘We shouldn’t jump to conclusions,’ he says after a pause.
‘You didn’t see,’ I say. ‘There was so much blood. Can you come home? Danny. You have to come home now.’
‘You need to call an ambulance.’
‘Why an ambulance? Why can’t you just come home?’
‘Megan, listen,’ he says. He lowers his voice. ‘Please, listen. I would. But it will take me nearly an hour to drive home. You need to get help now.’
‘Are you sure? I don’t think I’m even bleeding any more,’ I say.
‘That’s good,’ he says. ‘But you could start bleeding again.’
‘How do I call the ambulance?’
‘I’ll call the ambulance from here,’ he says. ‘I’ll also give Dr Barker a call.’
I hear a car drive up the hill, see it pass by outside. I realise I am standing naked, blood streaked and exposed in front of the balcony glass door. Shrinking back from the glare of the glass, I think I feel a kick.
‘Megan, you need to ——’
‘I think the baby moved.’
‘You sure?’
‘No, I’m not sure,’ I say. ‘But I am sure the bleeding’s stopped. Does the ambulance really have to come?’
‘Yes, it does.’
‘I want you here.’
‘I wish I was,’ he says. ‘But I’ll meet you at the hospital.’
I hear his pager go off.
‘You’re still at work. Will they let you leave?’
‘Of course they will.’
‘How long will it take you to get to Mount Surrey?’
‘Hang on a sec, Megan. I’ll speak to Dr Barker. But I don’t think you should go to Mount Surrey. You need to be at a tertiary centre.’
‘You’re only thirty weeks pregnant,’ he says.
‘The baby might need delivering. If it does, it’s still quite premature. Mount Surrey doesn’t have a neonatal intensive care unit.’
‘I’m really scared,’ I say. ‘Will the baby be all right?’
‘As long as you’re okay,’ he says.
While Daniel makes the calls I clean myself up. I put on my tracksuit pants and loose T-shirt, then take a bag and pack my toothbrush and change of underwear. Sitting on the couch, I am trying to keep calm when the phone rings.
I start crying again. ‘What took so long?’
‘I’ve spoken to Dr Barker,’ Daniel says. ‘You’re going to Monash. The ambulance is on its way.’

The straps on my belly are pulled to the second last fastener. They are holding the transducers in place. My thumb is under the top elastic strap to stop it pinching. It has indented my skin. The CTG machine is picking up the baby’s heartbeat, filling the small room with a staccato sound that rises and falls, rises and falls.
‘The trace looks okay,’ Dr Barker says. He palpates my belly. ‘Your uterus feels nice and soft. That means a placental abruption is unlikely.’
‘What do you think caused the bleeding?’ I ask.
‘Most of the time we never find out,’ he says. ‘It might be bleeding from the placental edge. What we call a marginal bleed.’
‘What if I start bleeding again? I mean, has this made my placenta weaker? Is there any way you can test it to tell?’
‘I’m going to do an ultrasound. That will give us an idea of how well the placenta is working,’ he says. ‘But I need to examine your cervix first.’
I am embarrassed when he asks me to remove my knickers as I haven’t had a shower since the bleeding began. The pad I am wearing is smeared with blood, the sight of which makes me anxious. The midwife lowers the head of the bed so I can lie flat. I bring up my ankles, spread my knees and hold Daniel’s hand as the metal speculum is inserted.
‘Taking it out now,’ Dr Barker says a few moments later. ‘I can’t see any active bleeding, only some old blood. And the cervix is long and closed, which means you’re not in premature labour.’
‘That’s good news,’ Daniel says.
‘Yes,’ Dr Barker says, placing the speculum in the porcelain sink behind him. He snaps off his latex gloves and drops them in the bedside bin.
He looks at me. ‘It’s best if we admit you overnight for observation. If there’s more bleeding the baby may need to be delivered early, so we need to give you a steroid injection to help mature its lungs. We’ll also do a blood test to check for the presence of foetal blood cells in your circulation.’
I nod.
He goes out to get the portable ultrasound machine. While he is gone, the midwife unhooks me from the CTG and I put my underpants back on. A short time later the door opens and he comes back in, pushing the ultrasound machine in front of him. He plugs it into a socket and flicks a switch. The monitor comes on. Squirting a pile of gel on to my belly he smears it over my skin with the ultrasound probe.
‘The placenta’s well clear of the os and I can’t see any clots behind it,’ he says. ‘The blood flow through the umbilical cord is good and there’s plenty of liquor.’ He angles the monitor so I can see. ‘There’s your baby’s heart beating, and its making good breathing movements as well.’
I feel calmer.
‘Do I really have to stay overnight?’
‘Yes, Bunny, you need to,’ Daniel tells me.
‘But I would sleep better if I was in my own bed,’ I say. ‘You could look after me at home.’
‘We’ll take good care of you here,’ the midwife says.
Dr Barker excuses himself to go and fill out paperwork. He says he will see me in the morning. The midwife goes to get a wheelchair.
‘I’m sorry,’ I say to Daniel.
‘For what?’
He walks beside me with his hand on my shoulder as I am wheeled out of the delivery suite. On our way down the corridor to the antenatal ward I hear a woman screaming.

It is past midnight but I can’t get to sleep. I lie on my back, staring at the room around me. A wedge of light comes through my partly open door, cutting a line over the bed next to mine. The smooth, starched sheets are pulled tight, tucked in under the plastic mattress. I almost wish that someone was sleeping there.
I listen to the undercurrent of night-time sounds that come from the ward—the cry of a newborn baby, a tap running, the soft murmur of voices from the nurses’ desk, and a door being pulled closed.
I put my hands on my belly to feel for a movement. I jiggle it some. And wait. Nothing happens. I tell myself to calm down. But the image of the blood in the toilet keeps running through my mind. I can’t let it go.
Angry shouts begin, faint with distance. They sound like they’re coming from the car park outside. I turn and look at the window reflecting the light from the hall. The yelling continues for a while. Then goes away.
I look at the chart at the foot of the bed. What if there is something they are not telling me?
I reach for it.
All it contains is my observation sheet—which I don’t understand—and a list of medications I have received. Nothing ominous. I put it back, roll onto my left, and pull the sheet up over my ears. But I still can’t settle down.
Something is wrong, I’m sure.

By Suvi Mahonen

How Do I Call The Ambulance?

Suvi  Mahonen

Surfers Paradise, Australia

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Artist's Description

Winner, Tertiary Student Category, Bauhinia Literary Awards, 2008

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  • BlueMidnight
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