Tales From the Field - Part 2
We tie her feet together, lacing the strip of gauze in a figure eight around her big toes. Kadiza stuffs a pinch full of cotton into her ears then nose. The airway is removed from her mouth and placed in a bucket next to a glass cylinder of darkish brown fluid attached to a small foot pump. We tried to save her from drowning, desperately, our efforts futile. Now she is a corpse.
We roll her gently from side to side, mopping up pools of blood and sweat from under her body. The family brings two wrappers, pieces of brightly colored material, wildly opposed but combined for one sole purpose. We place one underneath, rolling her to the right, then left, feeding the material under the weight of her body, like we’d all learned in nursing school. In a fleeting moment I think, ‘help us out a little here, you’re heavy. I’m tired too.’ But she really is dead. I remember that and feel badly. I am mad though, at the family for arriving too late; at us, for being ill equipped to provide the emergency obstetrics we say we do. Pulmonary edema, not what you’d expect to die from in pregnancy. Yet, these women are so sick to begin with.
We place the other cloth on top of her then wind another strip of gauze around her to keep the material in place. Her head is now shrouded in African print. The mother brings a beaded brown scarf and says something in Hausa. I can only imagine it’s something like, ‘but won’t she need this when she gets cold?’ The scene is unbearable but I am in it, or mostly. I feel myself lift. I feel faint. Tears form in my eyes. ‘Keep doing,’ my mind instructs.
The family brings a stretcher. Two plastic mats rest on top, a pattern of swirling purple and black flowers. It takes a five-minute discussion and an awkward team effort to lift her from the bed to the stretcher. The family walks her through the ward, past other women laboring, young girls waiting to be triaged. There is no protection from the reality at hand. The staff mill about. They too are affected. No one tends to the other patients. I can only hope that they’re stable.
The cleaners quickly take the mattress off the bed, to be cleaned, of evil spirits, I’m told. My work is done here for the morning. I have scheduling issues to resolve, an in-service training to prepare for. I walk home slowly. I reach a road that crosses the pathway I’m on. A van creeps by. It’s the family. I look at their faces in the window and try to express my condolences. The car passes then drives away, a small sprig of neem branches tied to the back bumper. I walk the rest of the way home, feet heavy.
To read Part 1 and learn more about Betsy, click here.
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