So Friday we opened the clinic again after being closed for a week in the city. Like always with Africa, nothing goes quite as planned. Jill was with Robert (the national nurse who helps us and translates for us) in the treatment room and I was taking names/payment/complaints/triaging in the other room and a man came to say that his wife was hemorrhaging from the vagina at 3 months pregnant, and she needed to get to the hospital. We have a contract with the hospital in town that we will take things outside a certain scope of practice to the doctor there. So I rushed out to the car and called Kelly (my other teammate) to come along for the ride so she could drive while I took the vitals of the woman once we picked her up. So we drove to the village (off-roading through the bush) only to find that the woman was so scared she was going to lose the baby that she started walking. So then I drove back and forth, through thorns and over termite mounds while the hot sun beat down on the hard ground. Her husband alternated between riding in the car directing me, and jumping out to run through the bush looking for her. And the land rolls and dips, hiding gullies and more thorns, with bushy grass and scrub that all too easily obscure the sight and ability to see a small dark woman fighting for the life inside of her. I prayed and drove and strained my eyes and another man joined the search. And their long loping strides took them out of sight once more and my head rested on the warm steering wheel as the car murmured beneath me. Out here, so many die. Healthcare is near and yet still so far away for so many. And all you can do is all you can do and sometimes all the waiting feels fruitless because people are dying and their souls are yet shrouded in darkness and firmly in the grasp of the enemy.
So finally they found her and the husband comes running back… Epunto aberu wadio. (She is coming slowly) and then he says softly, ekoku.. and makes an abrupt downward slashing motion with his hand. The baby is dead. His wife just had a miscarriage while walking alone through the bush. Not a tear passes his clear dark eyes, just the stoic face that confronts every tragedy in this hard land. That’s just how things are. These things happen. And the woman comes walking up slowly with a slight limp to her step… how many miles has she already walked this morning? No one can tell. The sadness touches at the corners of her eyes but stoic resignation is what she wears like the ashuka wrapped around her shoulders. The baby is dead but life must move on. And as I sit close to her and ask her name while Kelly bumps over bushes towards the hospital, only the softness of her voice hints at the pain she is feeling. And my heart breaks for her. I take her pulse and blood pressure and her vital signs are normal and that in itself is a relief. But she is still bleeding. We get her to the hospital but she must wait to be seen because there is only one doctor and the midwives are not yet there… and my heart and training rebel against the thought of this woman sitting in her pain… but I look around and see that I am surrounded by pain. And there on the next bed over is our friend, who has also been bleeding and doesn’t know if the little one growing inside of her for these past four months will make it through another night. I hold her hand and pray for her and offer to bring her what she needs? Soap for bathing and sugar for tea…so I promise to bring this when I return… And I have to walk away because I can’t heal everyone. I can’t help everyone. I can only do one small thing at a time and hope that it makes some kind of difference and pray my heart out- that God will see these hurts and bring his healing and somehow call these wandering hearts to himself.
Later when we went back to visit, the woman had still not been seen by a doctor and her husband talked of selling a goat to pay for the medicine and food his wife would need to get through this. I knelt beside her to pray for her again… And her stoic empty eyes looked past me like she was trying to be anywhere but here, sitting in her pain among a ward of mothers holding their newborn babies. And our friend, curled on her side in her bed, waiting for the next dose of medication and hoping against hope, with every beat of her heart, that a little heart still beats within her. I talked to the midwives and ensured both would be seen and cared for, but then I had to leave again. Because this is Africa, and there’s only so much us humans can do- the rest is in the hands of God alone.
So that’s what nursing in Africa looks like. We have seen many in the clinic, and we’ve been able to help with everything from malaria to respiratory infections and beyond… but sometimes there’s nothing anyone can do. Not the right supplies or training or healthcare facility available. But also knowing that if they were somewhere else in the world, maybe death wouldn’t have come calling so quickly. And that hurts like hell.
So for every patient we see, we pray for their soul. Because at the end of the day only healing from the inside out will bring any hope to these strong, stoic, hurting people.