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There is a space in between the fistula hospital ward and the operating room where family members of the patients have congregated for over a week. They support one another, bring food to their loved ones and greet the women with great happiness when they come out of surgery – regardless of whether or not they know them. They are a wonderful addition to the facility, and have a very positive impact on both the fistula patients and the staff.
The family members also have a favorite cheer that they shout to all of the medical staff when they walk by: “Barka da Aikey,” which means “Blessings on your work.”
Although all of Namu’s family members warned her not to travel to Danja to see the Western doctors, the misery of her obstetric fistula outweighed the discontent of her family. She first came to get screened by the Worldwide Fistula Fund’s team during their August 2010 surgical trip. During that appointment, she was treated medically for the first time in her life and heard first-hand accounts from women who had previously been treated. While the WFF doctors couldn’t fit her in the schedule until the March trip, her experience at the fistula hospital the first time assured her that the team had her best interests at heart. When she arrived this week she was greeted by the same nurses who saw her in August and told us that she now has an aspiration of becoming a fistula nurse. Namu received surgical treatment on Monday and is recuperating well and in great spirits.
Bamile is nearly 30 years old and has been living with an obstetric fistula for over a decade. She has five siblings but since her fistula developed, they have refused to recognize her existence. She lives in a small shack behind her family’s house and does odd jobs in exchange for food and shelter.
We met Bamile because she heard a radio ad that the Worldwide Fistula Fund’s team was coming to Danja, and borrowed money from her parents to take a two-day long taxi trip to receive treatment. To make sure that she didn’t miss the opportunity, she arrived at the fistula hospital five days early.
Bamile has a bubbly personality and spends her days chatting with her new friends on the ward and trying to figure out what she is going to do with her life now that she is not perpetually leaking.
Surgeons are close to completing their third full day of surgeries, with the fourth and final procedure being conducted as I write this. Tomorrow (Sunday) is an off day, and then there will be a full slate on Monday and Tuesday.
The above picture is from the current ward with women who are recovering from their surgeries. This will be the last time that the team uses the current facility, because the brand new fistula hospital should be opening in a few months.
After fistula surgery, it is typical for a woman to be treated for a week in the hospital to monitor the status of the surgical repair, continue treatment, check for infection and conduct physical therapy. There is an incredible feeling of support in the ward amongst the patients, and they show such incredible warmth to all of the medical personnel who are providing them each with a new lease on life.
Day two of surgeries ended with four more repairs. Two of the women that received surgeries were near 50 years in age and had been living with obstetric fistulas for decades. The team has also admitted four more women that are scheduled for surgeries tomorrow. It is remarkable to see the spirit and courage in all of the women. They are jubilant with hope and also fearful of undergoing a surgical repair. They comfort each other on the ward, and while they may be alone in their village or even their home, they have found wonderful company and support from the other survivors.
The last time the medical team was in Danja (November), they were able to
complete enough screenings for women that were not repaired to fill up all of the surgical spots for this trip. Twenty-four women have been waiting since then for the team to return and for the fistula surgeries to begin. Word spread through the area that the team was coming out, so more than 40 women arrived prior to the team in a hope that they could be seen for surgery. In fact, some women have been on the grounds for as long as eight days to make sure that they did not miss out on this surgical opportunity. They have gathered just outside the medical ward under a shaded tree and patiently waited for a chance to speak with the nurses and to be evaluated.
Surgeries have started and the team is currently working on their fourth and last one of the day. The first three have gone exceptionally well, and the women are resting in the recovery ward. One of the ladies just completed her third repair, and has been coaching the other women, who are very nervous, about how they can expect to feel after obstetric fistula surgery.