Stanley, a free-lance journalist from Portland, Oregon, chronicles her three-week sojourn as a fly on the wall in the labor-and-delivery unit of Oregon Health Services Univ. Hospital, a.k.a. ``Pill Hill.'' Stanley chose OHSUH because of its huge volume of patients (250 babies born each month), its state-of-the-art fertility clinic and high-risk-pregnancy facilities, its staff—caring and compassionate to a one, from her description—and its mixed clientele: a few paying patients, a great many indigent women. Daughters impregnated by their fathers, 13-year-olds raped by mothers' boyfriends, drug addicts whose fetuses somersault in their wombs on the ultrasound screen—all are familiar presences on Pill Hill. Stanley gives brief profiles of the dramatis personae: Lily Pratt, a prospective first-time mother who faces an extremely high- risk delivery because of her weight of 468 pounds; Julie O'Brien, about to give birth to a child she knows will be deformed and will probably die; ``Animal'' and Harriet Grackle, an endearing though raffish biker couple—to name just a few. Life and death, blood and tears, and every other bodily humor or product—all are here in faithful detail. In fact, too faithful detail—much of the dramatic impact is dulled by Stanley's attempt to render such a vast cast of characters and describe every Betadine scrub, every Mityvac suctioning, every sugar binge in the staff room. The larger issues challenging obstetrics today—malpractice, maternal drug-abuse, widespread lack of medical insurance, lack of affordable prenatal care for the poor, fertility problems of older two-career couples, parents' sense of entitlement to a ``perfect'' baby—are touched upon but ultimately overshadowed by minutiae. Superficial, then, but, for fans of medical drama, still a roller-coaster ride with plenty of peaks and plunges.
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