Mothers Day Special: Celebrating Freedom from Fistula
Conakry, Guinea - April, 2013.: Beads of sweat pour down the face as the man in blue scrubs beats the African drums. Singing reverberates down the passage of the wards as the Celebration Ceremony begins. I’m sitting in a row of plastic chairs that have been lined up in the space between the beds and we are waiting for the ladies to arrive. These are not just only old ‘ladies’. These are woman of extraordinary proportion. They are our VVF (Vesicovaginal Fistula) patients and today is their day of celebration.
Let me step back to fill those in on an illness that I knew nothing about until I got here. Pardon my ignorance if this is old news.
7 – 9 days of labour. For the mothers reading this you may have an idea of what this might be like. The rest of us can’t even begin to imagine. 7 – 9 days of labour. Why on earth would anyone go through that? It’s simple. In a place like West Africa where there is 1 doctor to 9000 people and no money, the idea of Lamaze classes sort of goes out the window. In fact, any kind of gynecological appointments are not an option so your pregnancy, and your labour, really is up to you. Complications happen and the babies of these moms never survive. In fact, the survival of the moms is a miracle but those that do are so torn from labour they are left incontinent. The constant soiling of their clothes makes them unpleasant to be around and so they are kicked out of their families; divorced by their husbands; left to fend for themselves. Their clothes are ruined and many of them live out in the bush where society doesn’t get to shun them any further.
Their story is impossible to sugar coat.
The women I am about to see heard of the Africa Mercy and traveled whatever distance they needed to in order to get here. 1 woman walked for 6 months when she heard we were coming. All 7 of them have been through the OR for a simple procedure to be “made dry”. In layman’s terms, they are stitched back together. It is time for them to be discharged and it is time to celebrate.
They walk in and Ward B erupts with applause. We are on our feet dancing to the beat of the drum and hugging everyone around us. They are dressed in new beautiful African dresses and adorned with jewelry After some time the Head of Chaplaincy call things back to order and each woman says a speech about her journey. They are then handed a package: A bar of soap and body cream to symbolize physical healing and cleansing…A mirror to symbolize value and beauty….A bible to symbolize the healing of hand of Jesus.
They are discharged back into the world. Beautiful and whole.
Written by Leign Jackman, Communications Manager, m/v Africa Mercy