Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Old & New

My old friend, Isatu. 

In the four weeks that I was away, I missed my ladies everyday as I shared their stories and pictures with friends at home. One story, I often told was of Isatu. She had just graduated from her bed to wheelchair when I left in May. The Friday night I arrived, I went over to the ward to greet the nurses and the ladies. In the distance, I heard “Allllisss” and there was Isatu walking toward me with the help of a cane. I felt like I was reuniting with an old friend and we celebrated by dancing around the ward. The other ladies were curious about our joyous reunion and a little shy at first, since they did not know this white lady with an African backside- that would me! It did not take long for me to meet the new ladies.

My new friend, Mariam. 
So Mariam was in the first bed in Green ward when I did rounds on my first day back to AWC. She had a frown on that never seemed to go away until I started frowning at her- then a smile would slowly work its way to the surface. Reverse psychology does work! The following days she would be always around for a hug and start to rub my arm and then rub hers. The nurses said she wanted my soft and white skin. I couldn’t help from laughing with her and telling her she was beautiful just the way she was- all four feet of her.

Aminata & Tewah

I love being a part of the patient care from start to finish and even beyond. When a lady is discharged from the centre, they are given a three-month follow-up card to return to see the doctor. I cherish the moments when I open the door to my office to head to theatre or to a meeting- and there sitting on the bench is a lady for follow-up. The ladies from camp in March are now returning and the sweet reunions are happening every day. I could not contain the joy I had inside when I saw Korea walking into the ward- looking healthier and happier as ever.  So many ladies have come back, when I hear someone call “Allis”, I know an old friend has returned.  I celebrated with Aminata and Tewah because they tell me they are dry.


However, some ladies come back a little discouraged because they are still leaking “small small”. Some fistulas are so severe; it may require the lady to endure multiple surgeries to be dry. I have known Bintu the longest- she was here when I first came in December. It broke my heart to see the young girl, just fourteen years old, struggling to walk. After a three days in labor, Bintu was dragged out to the centre of her village, where the elders decided to lay heavy stones on her to force the baby out. The traumatic delivery of her stillborn baby left her not only with a fistula, but unable to walk. She stayed on the ward for physical therapy and had her surgery done during camp- one of the worst the doctor had ever seen. She returned for follow-up last week, walking like nothing happened and smiling, despite still leaking. Bintu will most likely return in September along with others like Sama and Simmity, who need a second operation. Please pray for these ladies not to give up hope.

My favorite place to be is sitting with the ladies on the benches for chop time or as they plant each other’s hair. One new lady, Mamie, was already recovering from her surgery when I returned. Everyday as walked around the centre, she was in the same exact place on the bench each time I passed. I soon realized she could not walk far due to a congenital defect of her legs and hip- so she used one crutch to walk a few steps from the ward to her bench everyday. I started to reach out my hand to squeeze hers and share a Mende greeting as I passed by. Those squeezes turned into much more- soon she was kissing my hand in gratefulness and then hugs every time I passed. I soon learned her story of loss and loneliness. Mamie had lost all six of her babies at delivery or soon after so she had no living children to take care of her when she started leaking urine. Thus began 24 years of isolation- not only was she shunned because of her deformity, but also the fistula. Her neighbor would bring food to the doorstep, so she never left her house until the screening team brought her to AWC. I loved sitting down with Mamie giving her as many hugs she wanted to make up for those 24 years of being alone.

Mamie, on the left, always in her spot for chop time. I took this picture right as I was sitting down on a broken plastic chair. We all got a good laugh! Later that day, my friend Mikey tried to use the same chair and Mamie shooed him away with her cane! 

Adama working hard on my plants as Fatmata
just wanted to play with my slippery hair!
I think about my ladies just from today… Ragiatu & Rugiatu, both from Guinea, gave me a hug this morning at devotions They lingered holding onto me as we walked side by side back to the ward. Salamatu, one lady from camp, had her third operation today. I admired her courage to do this all over again as I held her hand during the spinal. I was greeted with hugs by old patients that returned for follow-up; Paulina & Mabinty, are both dry. Adama and Fatmata both wanting to try to plant my slippery hair again. And finally, in recovery I took care of Memunatu, very stoic and quiet, until I asked in her native tongue how she was doing. She responded “Tanto kooloo”, thanks to God, and for the first time I saw a smile on her face- a new lady with her life about to change.


The views expressed here are solely mine and are not the opinion of AWC/Mercy Ships.