Thursday, April 16, 2009

Fistula Day 1: All personal

Today we gathered medical histories on all of the women and girls. The term 'medical history' used to sound so impersonal to me-- it seemed like a neutral term, the simple compilation of facts. But now I see that it's all personal, and it requires you (the translator) to ask a lot of sensitive questions.

Such as: When did you start leaking urine? Do you also leak feces? Is it constant, or only when you're walking? What caused your fistula? Was it after childbirth? How many children have you had? How many are living? How many were stillborn? Are you married? How old were you when you got married? How old were you when you had your first baby? Do you still sleep with your husband? Have you had surgery before? Did it work?

Depending on what the answers are, a person can feel really, really shitty after telling them to a total stranger.

And this first day I definitely felt like a total stranger. A real jerk, for coming in and asking too many questions about things that I perceived as upsetting. How does a person learn, in question #26, that a woman has given birth 4 times and lost all 4 babies, and then move on to question #27 and ask whether they were boys or girls? And then on and on.

I talked with some of the women about this. Well, I wasn't 'talking' about it- I apologized for it. And without exception, they all said "We're here to get better, we'll tell you everything, don't worry about it". So. I did my best to be private and gentle with these sharp questions.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

wow. what an incredible situation in which to 'interview' these women. We are all lucky to have someone as sensitive as you are doing the asking. And I bet your language skills are taking on a whole new dimension!
beth

JessicaBliss said...

Hi Beth! No kidding about the language. Who'd have ever guessed I'd learn gynecological terms in Hausa? Weird. But I'm very happy doing this work-- thanks for supporting it and the women!

Seth said...

wow! Great story! I totally understand the circumstance as I had a similar experience in Uganda. I am starting a fistula charity and totally mishandled the questioning once. Check this out http://www.operationof.org/OperationOF/Blog/Entries/2008/7/10_Making_Cathy_Cry.html