It's VVF season, and that means I have a new home, or at least a new ward to call home. We take B ward, which used to be plastics, and turn it into something else entirely. We shuffle staff around to find the translators that speak nothern languages. We find the nurses who most want to work with these oh-so-precious ladies, and we bring them together into an amazing team. We cover the windows to the ward to allow more privacy, and we don't allow cameras, (only during our dress ceremonies). Because these women, they've already known too much shame and negative attention. It's time to shower them with love.
The first day of VVF, as they began screening women onboard, I walked down the stairs and I could smell them. It's a horrible thing to say, but the smell of urine preceeds them. Strong, concentrated, infected urine, leaking constantly down their legs. Puddles on chairs, trails down hallways. Heads bowed low. Eyes rise up to plead with you "make it better, take this shame away."
What is the cause? An accident of birth. In more ways than one. Some have been born with problems and have never known any different. Many more have suffered through childbirth that just wouldn't end. Days of labor with the baby stuck, not progressing, only to deliver a stillborn babe, or make it to a hospital for a radical c-section. And then, a few days or weeks later, suddenly they leak urine. Why? Because the baby's head, forced against the bones of the woman's pelvis cuts off the blood supply to the bladder and/or the rectum. Once the baby is finally delivered, the dead tissue where things were pinched off for so long leaves a hole behind. And that's only in the women lucky enough to survive a labor like that.
Traumatic labor, dead child, and now leaking. Often that leads to rejection. From community, from husband, from family.
Years later, we meet them. They hear the news of free surgery for women who are leaking, and they come. Sadly, we cannot help everyone. But those we can... I have fallen love with this ward of women. They are precious!!! It's a ward full of catheters. The monitoring is constant, but worth it.
It starts slowly. You smile at them as you introduce yourself, and maybe they will smile back. Lacking a common language, there are a lot of hand gestures and charades, and these sometimes bring the smiles and laughter best. The other day, one of the nurses found a boiled egg flattened in someone's bed, and showed it to me. I laughed and made a motion as if it had been an egg the woman had laid... well that sent of gales of laughter from one side of the room. This was humour they could all appreciate! And then there are "the twins" as we briefly called them. Two women, looking fairly similar, in beds side-by-side, who slowly but surely started serenading us. Quiet, gentle singing would come from one of them, and if she drifted off to sleep or stopped, the other would take over. So beautiful and soothing! Such a great way to show just how happy they are!
Two weeks ago we had our first dress ceremony, or "Gladi Gladi" as some call it. The ones who are dry get brand new dresses to symbolize their new lives. We sing, we listen to testimonies, we pray over them, and we present them with bibles, soap, and mirrors.
And with each ceremony (we've had three so far) the stories continue. The rejection, the shame... and now... the celebration!