Antepartum unit uses activities to keep women active and healthy

March 06, 2007
Tick-tock, Tick-tock. For most, the luxury of hearing time pass means a rare leisurely moment free of life’s worries and busyness. But if you’re anywhere near Ellen Carpenter’s quiet, dimly lit office at New Hanover Regional Medical Center’s Antepartum Unit, this clockwork clatter only reinforces the hard, monotonous reality, for weeks, even months at a time, of patients hospitalized for high-risk pregnancy. “Our patients usually come to us feeling really good and healthy, said Carpenter, RN, manager of the unit. “But we’re asking them to stay here, sometimes for months, to ensure a safe delivery and healthy baby. The emotional stress can be very challenging.” She said patients may stay for various reasons. “Sometimes they may have complications with the placenta, including placenta previa or placenta accreta, both of which can be potentially dangerous,” Carpenter said. As a result, patients must dramatically reduce their activity to avoid premature labor or bleeding, often meaning little movement and endless monotony. To help combat bed rest stress, NHRMC’s Antepartum Unit, a 15-bed unit that saw almost 1,100 patients last year, offers a wide range of activities and services to help keep soon-to-be mothers active. “One of the services we encourage them to use is the Healing Arts Network, which offers a whole range of therapies, including massage, music and pet therapy,” Carpenter said. Other activities include computer and Internet access to check e-mail, play games, shop and pay bills. Computer-mounted cameras allow patients to interact with their families that can sometimes be hours away. “Families often come on the weekends, so we bring a couple sleeper chairs into the room, and they all camp out,” Carpenter said. “Patients also can access members of the hospital’s Spiritual Care Department who frequently provide emotional support to these women.” Frequent staff-patient contact also helps, whether it’s individual or group visits. “We started a morning rounding process where the RN, attending physician and a resident go as a team and meet with each patient to answer questions,” she said. “It allows each woman and her family to be involved in their own plan of care, thereby reducing anxiety.” Sally Markovitch, a registered nurse in Antepartum, said special dietary requests are also important. “They get tired of hospital food, so we try to honor any special requests they might have,” she said “It’s like living ‘Groundhog Day’ over and over again,” said patient Dawn McKernan, pregnant with twins, referring to the 1993 Bill Murray movie where the main character relives the same day over and over again. “You just have to try to stay busy.” For McKernan, staying busy during her six-week stay meant fruit smoothies and, above all, writing. “I was inspired to start writing by Dr. Lydia Wright, my perinatologist, and others,” she said. “They would all look out my window and comment on what a great view I had.” Outside her window is the steel and concrete that will be part of the hospital’s 179,000-square-foot, $45 million Women and Children’s Center. “My writing kept me busy,” she said. “And the care I received was phenomenal.”For more information about New Hanover Regional Medical Center’s Antepartum Unit, please visit