They tell me I’ll get used to it. I hope I never do.
On the way home from the field today, a car intentionally tried to veer us off the road. We were going too fast, and I closed my eyes, anticipating the crash.
But we were okay.
On the way home from the field today, we saw a woman sitting on the edge of the road. There was a pool of blood beneath her leg. My co worker and I stopped, as everyone else seemed to be passing by unconcerned.
A fifteen year old with epilepsy, she had walked an hour from her village to the hospital in town to get her drugs. On the way back, she had a seizure, fell, and gashed open a wound that had already tattooed her body by a fire.
We took her back to the hospital, where we had to beg someone to help her, eventually wrapping the wound ourselves. (Yes mom, with gloves).
It was in the emergency room that I noticed one girl in terrible distress. She was convulsing, moaning in severe pain, had only a sheet covering the bottom half of her, and her eyes bulged out of her head as though she had just seen her own death pending. She was completely alone. “Why isn’t anyone helping this girl?” “What is wrong with her?” “Hello!?”
I can’t even begin to describe my frustration/fear/anger... Is this the way people are treated here? No wonder there is so much death, I hated to think-but I did. The place was filthy, no one was paying any attention-or even seemed to care, and when the girl fell off her bed, a nurse said “just leave her.”
I stayed with her, trying to hold her hand and calm her down. I stayed with her hoping my presence would put pressure on the doctors to act. I stayed with her, hoping to protect her-asking questions, and suggesting tests. “That ward is closed today.” “That drug is over.” I stayed with her because no one else was there for her. I stayed with her, because even though she wasn’t able to talk, and I couldn’t speak to her, I wanted her to see in my eyes that she was not alone.
Finally, a girl came. The sister. She sat by her head, trying to calm the hysteria, while I sat by her side-trying to keep her from pulling her IV out. Language was our wall, but we kept looking at each other, and she kept looking away, hoping I wouldn’t see the tears in her eyes.
I left to go get the sister some food and water, and to bring the girl a pillow and sheet (which of course, the hospital didn’t have). But when I came back, the bed was gone.
How does someone tell someone else that someone has died? As a profession, I have never understood it. Do they say it the same way each time? Does it get easier? Or does a new hole rip in their heart each time?
I ran outside and into the arms of the sister, holding her as we cried together. They were both only teenagers.
The doctor came outside and whispered to me that she hoped I would still continue to support the sister, as the two of them lived only together-and only had each other.
Women began to gather, as African women do-supporting each other; one tribe of sisters, daughters, mothers and friends. I stepped away now, only supporting her with my presence… tears of course, still drowning my eyes. One of the women approached me and said “Be silent. Be still. Do not cry.” And I stopped. I turned off all emotion to be “strong” for the sister, but in turn, I felt as though I was isolating myself from her.
I left the sheet for the body to be wrapped in. It was a pretty one. Pink and ironed, with little lilac flowers.
Tomorrow I will help them transport the body.
They tell me that I will get used to this. I hope I never do.