Report on the Fistula Outreach

October 17, 2011 § 7 Comments

Zambia from the air, otherwise known as broccoli florets

We flew up north and spent 10 days in rural Zambia doing a fistula repair outreach (see HERE for more info). The surgeon quipped that the landscape looks like broccoli florets from the sky and I think it’s a fair description. Overall, the outreach was a wonderful success and we treated 58 women (we planned for 40).  We hope that most of them will be dry and that their lives will be different because of the surgery. It was, however, very hard work. We worked 11 hour days Monday through Saturday took Sunday off and only did ward rounds and did more full days Monday through Wednesday, including travel time. I got lots of practice placing IVs and was dubbed the “IV Queen.”

The IV Queen at work

The team was incredible to work with. We had a common vision to help these women through the outreach and we all did our part to make that happen. We enjoyed musical hits from the 1980s and 90s to pass the time in the OR while we worked. Also, I found out that American Country music is very popular outside the US, particularly in the UK. I had no idea! It’s strange to see the things that American’s have exported.

The team - we are Irish, South African, Dutch, Zambian, and American. Quite diverse!

On our day off on Sunday, we traveled to an safari camp and wildlife preserve for the day. We hiked down to the river and enjoyed some gorgeous views of waterfalls and swimming holes. We recently had some rain here, which turned the trees all different colors. It was reminiscent of Autumn at home in Seattle, my mother’s self-proclaimed favorite time of year.

Mutinondo Wilderness

Basking in paradise

My favorite moments of the trip were talking to the women and hearing their birth stories. Most of the women had had long prolonged labors without access to proper medical attention. The fistulas resulted from the baby’s head pushing against the tissues in their pelvis and cutting off the blood supply so that the tissue died and then created a hole. The OB-GYN explained it this way:

Obstructed labor + obstructed transport = Fistula

Getting the stories


Our anesthesiologist

On the last day, the OB-GYN taught a group of 38 midwifery students. The last section he taught was about neonatal resuscitation. He looked over at me and said, “Laura, you know this part. Why don’t you teach the last half hour of the class. Here are some notes for you.” I panicked, but soon got my brain back on track. He was right, I did know this part. As a pediatric ICU nurse, if there was one thing I knew, it was my ABCs (airway, breathing, circulation). The funny part was that the doctor introduced me as “Dr. Laura” and then told the class I was a pediatric nurse. They were so confused and had no idea what I was.

The group of midwifery students

I felt that in some ways during this trip that I had reached the climax of my nursing career. This is what I wanted to do when I first thought about becoming a nurse – I wanted to work with childbearing women as a nurse in rural Africa. I felt so thankful to the Lord for this opportunity.

The happy women after their surgeries


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