Goodalls Ahoy 07: Women’s Health… Jul ‘19
Thank you all for following our journey in Guinea. It only felt like yesterday that we were packing up our house in Marlow, about to launch into the unknown (well, unknown to us at least!) We didn’t know what living on a ship would entail, or how we would cope in a cabin, or what living in an African nation would be like. And it was an unknown journey for me personally as to what role I might be able to play with women suffering with Obstetric Fistula. But in faith, and hope, I set out….
A little bit of the back story…Pregnant with my first son Noah, I was at the Royal Obstetricians and Gynaecologists World Congress in the UK. A friend and I were debating whether to head off early and hopefully miss the traffic leaving for the weekend, but decided against it and sat back down to the last lecture by an Australian surgeon Dr Andrew Browning. He went on to introduce women that he had cared for over the years as a Fistula surgeon in Africa, and tell something of their stories. Women, who I could relate to, both personally and in my professional capacity, who had expectations dashed and hope destroyed trying to birth new life in settings with little to no obstetric care. Birth and death happening on the same day. For women who may survive the birth, those affected by obstetric fistula then go on to experience a continual leak of urine and/ or faeces, a great source of shame and misery. The suffering of these ladies is unimaginable. The woman is often rejected by her family, and pushed out of the community. She survives on minimal scrap food, no material wealth and starved of human touch and affection.
There, that moment, at that conference, I felt such a deep compassion for these ladies that over these last 6 years has not faded or been forgotten.
Family life went up a gear, as did my training in the ensuing years: Noah came along, I gained membership to the College of Royal Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and then Judah made his entrance into the world (and the world knew about it!). But all the while making contacts and searching for that opportunity to serve women with Obstetric Fistula with my young family.
Mercy Ships came into our lives one rainy summers day; after a whirlwind few months of preparation we were heading out to Texas with Barney as the Finance Director on-board the Africa Mercy. I knew God wanted us to take the position, even if my professional life might not look how I had foreseen. Little did I know how He was going to answer those prayers.
The surgical schedules run in blocks on the Ship. The women’s health block ran for 6 weeks March/ April time. For each fortnight, there were due to be a pair of fistula surgeons. However, in the new year, all of a sudden there was a need for a second surgeon across all 6 weeks! I was elated! Not only did I get to step into that role, but the boys were looked after by their Grandma, Nanny and super-Dad Barney - each PCGs (primary care givers, or stay at home parent) for a fortnight each! You would think that Barney only saved his mischief for you, our devoted blog readers, but you would be wrong. Here’s what he and his unwitting accomplish Judah did when they, unbeknownst to me, swiped my badge….
Those 6 weeks were the highlight of my career. Meeting the ladies in screening for the first time was humbling. The women are all asked to come to one of the surgeon screening days, so the surgeon can review their suitability for an operation. Story after story of loss. Loss of babies, loss of bodily function, loss of relationships, loss of dignity. It was overwhelming. I did my best to learn fast, support the expert, and offer a smile, a hand hold or a hug where I could. I just wanted them to know that I could “see” them, and I cared.
Surgeries began the next day as I recall. I found the days physically demanding, as anyone who does pelvic surgery can testify! But it was truly fascinating. I loved it. Techniques I had been studying came alive as each of the specialists taught new things. The operating room team were remarkable – compassionate, knowledgeable and kind. Such a great environment to be around.
We would ward round on the pre-ops, the peri-ops and the post ops! Seeing our ladies multiple times a day, from admission to discharge, meant that we had the chance to build relationships. We had many laughs, hugs, examinations, dye tests, happy conversations and sad ones too. Add in a couple of urgent reviews and sick patients, it was full on but buzzing! (/ exhausting!!!) Our nursing team were INCREDIBLE, led by the equally incredible and enthusiastic Team leader Nicole!
There was always such a sense of community on B ward, a belonging to the sisterhood borne out of suffering but ending in family. The nurses threw a wonderful party for the ladies on Easter Sunday. Each woman was escorted in to a transformed ward (how they managed to make a classy party venue with sheets, fairy light and hospital jugs I’ll never know!) complete with homemade treats and local music, all for them and all because of them. It was truly moving to see the shock, delight and joy on our ladies faces. All for loves’ sake.
The dress ceremonies are the time the whole ship is invited to join in the celebration! Each woman leaving our care after obstetric fistula surgery is given a new dress, and the chance for a pampering by our chaplaincy team, and then a celebration commences with music and dancing, and opportunities for the woman to tell her own personal story. Husbands were honoured also and applauded for standing by their wives. Transformation was evident in each and every woman, shame replaced by dignity, worthlessness replaced by a realisation of being priceless. Each of those women were valued and dearly loved by their sisterhood, the Ship and the King of the Universe who had crafted each one in His own image and has been with them through it all.
And then the time came, far too quickly, for us to all part ways. Each of the ladies took a piece of my heart. I am forever changed, and I give thanks to God for that.
Thanks again for all your support and prayers.
Lots of Love,
Barney, Liz, Noah and Judah
If you would like to support us financially the easiest way is by donating through the Mercy Ships UK website and select the ‘This donation is to support a crew member’ option at the bottom of the page. Please include our surname and designation code ‘Goodall 5013’