Every person has a story. Today I have chosen to listen to the stories of our patients, with the help of our interpreter, Beza.
Our first stop is the gynecology ward. It is one large room, with five beds. It is light and airy, with screened windows that open onto a simple garden and an astonishingly beautiful view of the mountains. We enter and the room is silent, all five women patients lying in their beds. We walked over to the woman at the far end of the room, next to the open window. Her name is Leyla. She is 25 years old and lives in a village 35 miles from Yetabon. She is a housewife, her husband is a farmer and they have three children. About ten months ago, she began to suffer from uterine vaginal prolapse, which means that her uterus is protruding from her vagina. This can result from prolonged labor and multiple pregnancies. Women here usually deliver babies at home without medical attention. Having a prolapsed uterus prevents Leyla from bearing more children and causes her to leak urine continually. Leyla is shy as she answers questions, gazing downward and covering her mouth as she speaks quietly. I ask if it is alright to continue this conversation about such personal issues, when suddenly I hear a male voice speaking from outside the screened window about three feet from my ear. The man is smiling broadly and apparently saying, “Sure, she would love to talk to you!” This is Leyla’s husband, and he says he is very happy she is in the hospital and feels lucky that the Americans are here to cure her.
The woman in the second bed is Asiya. She is 40 years old. She and her husband are farmers and have five children. A new male voice at the window tells me that for two years her uterus is hanging outside her body. He says she has back pain and urinary problems. He is very animated, gesturing with his hands, smiling as if he is telling a hilarious story. Asiya covers her face, but she is smiling and laughing.
We move to the third woman, Zahira. You guessed it! A third husband appears in the window. With his arms happily around the other two husbands, he is smiling and laughing, telling me that he and Zahira have only one child who is ten years old. No more babies have come in all that time, so he has brought her to the hospital to find out why.
Everyone of us is laughing at the three husbands in the window. They are poking each other in the ribs, competing for attention like a bunch of school boys. We had entered a room of silent, serious patients. When we left, five patients, three husbands and the two of us were laughing and waving to each other. We all had new friends.
In the men’s ward, Mohammed, 63 years old, is recovering from prostate surgery. He had been having difficulty urinating for a long time. In desperation, he came to the hospital for relief. He was surprised and happy to find the American doctors here to help him. He is feeling well now and will go home today.
Alone in a private room is 35 year old Alika. She has a husband and a nine month old baby. Her right breast is enlarged and hard. She is having such severe back pain that she cannot walk or even sit up. She has breast cancer and probably metastasis to the bone. There is nothing that can be done for her here, so if her family agrees, she will be referred to a larger hospital in the capital city of Addis Ababa. The interpreter tells me that Alika does not know that she has cancer. She tells me that in Ethiopia, if the patient has cancer or HIV, often the doctors do not reveal the diagnosis because the patient may panic or feel hopeless.
Finally, we visit Shamoro, the older man with the infected fractured arm. The arm had been bound so tightly that the circulation was cut off and there is a large wound from shoulder to elbow. It is so deep that the bone is exposed. Shamoro has been in the hospital for one month and his condition has continued to decline. Today he will be discharged to his home to die. Family members will carry him on a stretcher to his home, a one hour walk from the hospital.
The nurse, Yesi, tells me the family is poor and very distressed, not only because of their father’s illness, but because the hospital bill is beyond their means. They have come up with $75, but there remains $300 to pay. For this family, it is impossible to pay this bill. Our team decides to sponsor Shamoro. Every team member contributes and the bill is paid. Shamoro, his son and daughter warmly express their deep gratitude. A great weight has been lifted from them; their family has been saved from economic devastation.
The role of Global Partners in Ethiopia is not only to provide procedures and medical care, but to forge relationships and offer hope. We have witnessed birth and death, shared humor and sadness, given comfort and received comfort. We will come home knowing what it is to be a part of something greater than ourselves.
Thank you for your continued support through blog comments and in your thoughts. We will leave tomorrow and Team 2 will be arriving. We will wish Team 2 well and say our good byes to new and old friends in Yetebon. We look forward to seeing you at home soon.