By Dr. Lucianna
The pain of a woman
She had an engaging smile, dazzling white teeth, dimples and all! I have always loved dimples. When I was small I tried sucking in my cheeks but dimples eluded me. How on earth are dimples made! Little me had no idea. Anyways.., she had this intensely dark, shiny, almost ebony skin colour. And then she had those traditional facial marks peculiar to her tribe in the part of the world she came from. The marks were almost scary to one who had not seen them before. Aaand… she was pregnant, early pregnancy, the stage which most women will prefer to keep to themselves. She had been instructed to go to hospital early, why? She had been pregnant eight times before but had no child to show for her effort. Her name was Sarah.
I remember when I was still a student going with a friend to visit a friend. We got talking and the moment she realised I was a medical student she poured her heart out to me. She was in a live-in relationship (Kenyans call it “come-we-stay”) and the “husband” had refused to formalise their relationship because she appeared to be “barren”, to use her own words. Clutching at straws, you might think. What would a medical student do? I did what I had been taught, I took a history. I realised she had lost two pregnancies. And no, she had not seen any doctor yet because some “knowledgeable” older woman had told her she couldn’t go to hospital until her pregnancy was four months! Talk of ignorance! For one, she was not barren! She had proved she could get pregnant. I explained to her the little I knew then about loss of pregnancy, what the lay man calls “miscarriage”, what doctors call “spontaneous abortion”. I explained to her about a pregnancy-saving stitch and told her to see a gynaecologist immediately she got pregnant again. The rest, as they say, is history. The stitch saved her marriage.
Back to Sarah, my dimpled, tatooed patient. Her tribeswomen warned me of her stubbornness and perceived rudeness. It was almost impossible to put her smile and the said character together. I decided to ignore the character and go for the smile. In the course of our doctor-patient-relationship I flashed enough smiles to last me a lifetime. I don’t know why my cheeks never hurt. To cut a long story short, I was the only doctor available to Sarah. It was a very poor resource setting that had only two doctors. The hospital didn’t even have a theatre but fortunately there was a mission hospital nearby that allowed us to use their theatre as long as we did the surgery ourselves. That’s where I inserted the stitch in Sarah’s cervix and then back in our own hospital gave the necessary instructions.
Through the remaining months of Sarah’s pregnancy we fought, almost literally, she and I. She was not very good at following instructions. At some point I had to admit her for “forced bedrest”. Immediately I left the hospital compound Sarah would be out of bed. The staff would radio-call me and I would go right back. We would fight some more and I threatened to cuff her to her bed, not that I had any cuffs. Anything to keep Sarah on that bed. At some point she went into pre-mature labour. We were in danger of losing this pregnancy like all the others. We gave the necessary medication and elevated the foot of her bed by using huge stones. We had to keep that baby away from that cervix! That night I almost camped by her bedside because if we didn’t manage to abort the labour that stitch had to come out. When she settled I went away but still on high alert. Oh, looking after Sarah was exhausting. She listened to nobody but me, and even then, not very well. But her dimpled smiles persisted. Sometimes I don’t know how I managed to smile back.
After all the fights and the smiles, finally, true labour set in! Everybody was kind of ready. Her tribeswomen, who were her nurse-aides, however, wouldn’t let me go home. Despite having assisted numerous women deliver they were not quite ready for Sarah. It was night for goodness sake and camps were not safe at night! Sarah herself insisted if I wasn’t around she wouldn’t deliver. Smile firmly in place, cheeky or what? I stayed. Hallelujah! Stage 2 of labour came. After huffing and puffing and pushing, out came a baby girl! Everybody was so excited! I went home, with a smile in place I fell into an exhausted sleep.
Come the following morning I went to the hospital and my first stop was Sarah’s bed. Very deliberately Sarah showed me the baby’s card. Oh good Lord! What do I see? The baby was named after me! Only they didn’t know I was Lucianna, they knew me by my surname. I told them, “Oh, no, no, you have to change. This is a boy’s name!” She looked me in the eye and in her special English said, ” I look baby, I see you. I look you I see your name. That is baby’s name”. Incidentally she and her relatives had long agreed that the baby would bear my name. My surname was the only name they knew.
Families have undergone untold suffering because of pregnancy loss or inability to concieve. All it requires is taking the right action and having a sympathetic ear to guide them through. There are many advances in technology and many couples who thought themselves “barren” have been assisted. Our land is full of professionals in the area of infertitility, talk to them