I've befriended a patient onboard this field service. I still have a soft spot for the VVF ladies after my time with Annie in Congo. Last field service, I was focused on my job. This field service, Mick left 10 days after our arrival in Madagascer to study in England - he'll be back in 3 weeks time after 3.5 months away. I didn't think I'd be able to commit to befriending a patient whilst Mick was away - however, once you listen to a patient's history, in your heart, you're already committed.
I remember as a 14 year old thinking how hard life was - probably based on what someone else was allowed to have or do - or the amount of homework I had. Perhaps some chores were not to my liking. But my concerns were of a child still being a child and acting as such.
My patient is 14 years old - her name is Minette. She has an obstetric fistula after mis carrying very traumatically a few months ago. She was very malnourished - weighing only 28kg when she arrived. She also had some nerve damage in her legs as a result of the birth and has just started to walk again without the walking frame - but with a supportive arm. it is a long road ahead and full recovery may not even be possible.
I visit her on Wednesday and Sunday because she is in the Obstetric Fistula Clinic operated by Mercy Ships in the grounds of the local hospital. I ride my bike over when the boys are in school - or on Sunday, when the younger two are at karate. So today, Jack and I rode over and it hit me: how blessed we are to have grown up in Australia and all that means.
Seeing Jack - side by side with Minette :
-They are the same age and approximately same height
-He's in his 9th year of school - she's had 5 years
-He weighs about 40kg and she's gained some weight but probably in low thirties still.
-She has an obstetric fistula and the possibility of Hope and Healing for her incontinence through Mercy Ships
-Jack has Asperger's syndrome and we accessed every therapy recommended for him when he was diagnosed. He made huge improvements immediately.
It wasn't until they were sitting side by side today that I realised how much we take our medical system for granted. We don't need to hold out hope for help in Australia, we just need to make an appointment. Sometimes we have to wait a few days, weeks or months. Rarely - years. In Madagascar - the help you need may not even exist in your country.
Obstetric fistulas are a big problem here somewhat due to the culture of marrying very young in some people groups. It is estimated that there are 50000 women with this condition in Madagascar with up to 2000 more occurring each year. Mercy Ships has partnered with Freedom from Fistula to train a team of nurses, set up Operating Room and clinic to leave behind when we sail away in June 2016. It's awesome to be part of this.
I don't mind admitting that I've struggled with my own little pity party these last few months whilst Mick has been away. It's hard being remote from friends and family - especially with the turnover of volunteers onboard. It's hard single parenting - even with daily phone calls. And all jobs have days when it's not great.
However - imagine living with incontinence from a fistula from age 14, for the rest of your life.
What does that do for your dreams of the future - for family, employment, community.
How do you feel about yourself?
Minette and the other patients at the OBF clinic bring our purpose in being here in Toamasina into focus - we are here to bring Hope and Healing, one patient at a time.