Dr. Richard Adams recalls the 'Dark Ages' of OB-GYN

April 9, 2011 • Local News

Richard Adams, M.D., of Lincoln, has delivered more than 10,000 babies in his career as an OB-GYN. The 73-year-old doctor retired from Carlsbad Medical Center in the spring of 2008.

Adams recalls that his team of two interns [auth] and four residents delivered between 30 and 40 babies a day at Los Angeles County Hospital in California, where he completed his four-year residency in 1970.

“This is a very busy service,” he chuckled.                                  Dr. Richard Adams (Emily Russo Miller Photo)

The Oak Forest, Ill.- native received his first medical training as a hospital corpsman in the Navy from 1955 to 1958. He delivered his first baby four years later, in 1962, while attending medical school at the University of Southern California.

He calls his formative years as a doctor the “Dark Ages” of obstetrics and gynecology.

“At that time, we didn’t have ultrasounds; we didn’t have fetal monitors. To listen to a baby’s heartbeat, we used what we call a fetoscope. I don’t think residents today even know what it is,” Adams said.

Real changes in technique and technology were ushered in later on, he says, with the invention of the fetal heart monitor in 1958 and laparoscopic, or minimally invasive, surgery in late 1960s. The fetal monitor detects subtle changes in a baby’s heart rate that weren’t immediately apparent with a stethoscope, he says.

“When I was in training, if the baby’s heartbeat dropped down, we’d go rushing off to the operating room and do a C-section, because we think the baby’s in distress,” he said. “We’d get the baby out —  it’s screaming, beautiful, and we’d say, ‘We saved another one.’ But down the hallway, another baby just died in utero because we weren’t picking up the subtle changes.”

Looking back on his training days in Los Angeles, he says he would frequently deliver multiple babies from the same mother.

“It’s rare for me, in the latter part of my career, to see a woman having even a third baby. See a fourth or fifth baby? That’s really unusual, whereas when I was in training in LA County, it wasn’t uncommon to deliver a fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth or ninth baby,” he said.

Adams has delivered two sets of triplets in his career and many sets of twins, but in the early days before ultrasound, he says there was no way to know if the mother were pregnant with twins.

“The only way we’d find out is if the mother got huge,” he joked.

Adams has also been at the forefront of changes in delivery room etiquette. In California, he says it was popular at one time to have eight to 12 relatives and friends of the mother in the delivery room, watching the birthing process as if it were a theatre show. That trend was after 1969, because when Adams’ first child was born, he was not allowed into the delivery room.

“Up ’till about ’71 or ’72, dads weren’t allowed in the room in most hospitals,” he said. “The reason for that I’m sure is that somewhere in the world, some father had popped an OB doctor during the delivery, and that word went around the world.”

Adams opened a private practice in 1970 in Santa Rosa, something he says is difficult for doctors today. His medical malpractice insurance was about $21,000 a year compared to the $40,000 to $70,000 it would likely cost today. He also received $10,000 in start-up money from a local bank. He says it would cost about $100,000 to start up the same practice in Santa Rosa today.

Adams stayed at his practice for 24 years before moving to Carlsbad in 1994, where he was recruited by the Carlsbad Medical Center.

He began working for the Medical Center in 1999, and has delivered babies at Eastern New Mexico Medical Center and other facilities in Las Cruces and Taos. He retired in the spring of 2008, but still works several days a month to cover for OB-GYNs who are away on vacation or who take a personal day off work. He was recently hired by Planned Parenthood in Albuquerque to work part time.

He says as long as he doesn’t have to be on call or work nights, he wants to keep being an OB-GYN and delivering babies.

“I’ve probably had the most satisfying career that I can think of. I never hated going to work,” he said. “It was a real delight.”

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