I CAN almost hear Professor Jim Dornan close his eyes on the other end of the line and sift through his memory, trying to recall too many emotional and memorable incidents he has witnessed on the hospital wards to mention.
“I can remember one time, back when (ultrasound) scans were just being done,” says the renowned obstetrician and gynaecologist, whose career in medicine has spanned 40 years.
“We were doing a test - putting a needle in to take fluid in from the baby to see if it had any breathing difficulties. The water came out very green and that suggested that the baby had had a bowel movement in the womb.
“When that occurs before full term, it often is a sign that the baby is in distress. So we spoke about it and we delivered the baby by Caesarean.”
Professor Dornan says that when the child was born - at around 36 weeks gestation - the umbilical cord was wrapped around its neck seven times. So tightly, in fact, that it had resulted in abrasive marks on its little neck.
But the infant survived.
“I’ve often wondered where that baby is in this day and age,” adds Professor Dornan, the man whom this particular child quite possibly owes his life to.
And there are many more; for as someone who has delivered more than 6,000 babies, and as a result on countless occasions having had to make the kind of calls in acute situations that many of us could never comprehend, this Belfast born doctor is responsible for the bringing together of safe, healthy, happy families all over Northern Ireland.
“It was a luck call,” he adds of that incident. “We spend our days watching nature doing wonderful things, and then when nature is not so good, we go in and do what we’re trained to do.”
And Professor Dornan (who, yes, is related to talented local actor Jamie of The Fall fame - he is his father) has decided to commit just some of his most extraordinary accounts of life in a busy maternity ward to paper.
His book, An Everyday Miracle (Blackstaff Press, priced £9.99) has just recently been published, and as I remarked to him, most likely reducing women everywhere to tears, as some of the wonderful tales in this book would harden the hardest of hearts.
Certainly, there is no greater everyday ‘miracle’ than childbirth, but as we all know, pregnancy can lead to complications and tragedy as well as happy endings, and Professor Dornan does not shy away from this in his book.
He tells me he often found that both the terribly tragic and the terribly miraculous moments he encountered evoked, strangely, “similar emotions” - perhaps due to their “dramatic” nature.
Indeed, Professor Dornan reveals in the book how he was “awestruck” at seeing a baby born back in the 1970s, and knew instantly that this area was where he wanted to pursue a career.
“A lot of my formative years were spent living with that amongst and parallel to people who were physically and mentally challenged,” says the Northern Ireland Tiny Life president, and former director of Fetal Medicine at the Royal Maternity Hospital, explaining that his father Jim was “an accountant and manager of the Incorporated Cripples Institute (now the Northern Ireland Institute for the Disabled).
He was schooled at Bangor Grammar School and Queen’s University Belfast, and whilst training to be a doctor, spent time working in most of the Province’s hospitals.
He found gynaecology and reproductive systems to be the “most exciting module I did by far” and decided to pursue a career in this field.
“Since then I have never regretted it,” he says, adding that he also had a passion for paedeatrics, but years ago, for many babies the outcome for sick infants was not a good one, and he felt he would “be spending my life counselling people that on the loss of their babies.”
He adds: “The living excites me more, and I think the work done by people at the other side in looking after people in the final days of their life is wonderful - and I hope they are around in my final days - but I probably prefer the acute situations rather than the chronic situations.”
Professor Dornan retired last March and that was when he started to write his book. He says he was keen to channel his creative side, but not only this, he wanted to “elevate women” and their position, a feeling he clearly holds as betrayed in the opening pages of his book, which he dedicates to “women and all that they have achieved in the face of adversity.”
He tells me: “I have always been very impressed by how women cope with things, and I suppose in the last decade I have wanted to elevate women a lot more than maybe I did at the start of my career, and so by using stories I can use them to show the resolve of women in different kinds of situations.”
The Ulster doctor says he feels that women should have full control over decisions regarding whether or not she should have a reproductive life, and the reality is that “women both in this country and in the under resourced world do not have that power.”
He adds: “Where there are issues, most of that control has been designated by men. I think women should put women first - there have been some great champions of women over the past decade but I think there could be more. I think the women who have made it in the past and through the glass ceiling should look behind them over their shoulder and make sure those coming up behind are championed as well.”
As well as men and women, there is another key player in the miracle that is life being given - and taken away - and that’s Mother Nature.
“I have gone into quite a few what I thought were hopeless situations in order to save the mother’s life, and have in fact ended up saving the baby’s life as well,” he says.
“To put it quite simply, nature is a tough obstetrician. She’s a tough midwife. We work behind her back because she is tough, and sometimes we have to do things that nature hadn’t planned.”
Then there are the times when nature takes over and works her magic in the most beautiful of ways.
The story of one of Dr Dornan’s patients, Maisie (not her real name), is one of the most touching in his book. Today in her 80s, she was born at 23 weeks, and no one, including her parents, “had any hope for my survival.”
Her father laid her in a shoebox lined with cotton wool and poured olive oil over her to “keep the heat in”, before setting her by the range, praying that she would pass away very gently.
She didn’t. As her dad began to feed her cow’s milk from a Parker Pen, her grip on life grew stronger, as did her little body. Her eyes opened, her bowels started functioning, and her “skin became normal looking.”
As Maisie told Dr Dornan, even though it was 80 years ago, people still knew what the basics were in terms of nourishment at the beginning and the end of life. Perhaps he is right that nature herself is the greatest doctor of all.