35 years with a fistula: Zemzem’s story
September 22, 2016
“Death is more preferable than such a tragic life. I had tried to commit suicide many times, but I used to be too weak even for that.” Zemzem
Zemzem is from an isolated village in the North of Ethiopia. At 16, she married a local farmer and dreamt of having a big family. But this was not to be. Zemzem became pregnant nine times. None of her babies survived.
Despite her heartbreak, Zemzem remained hopeful. During her tenth pregnancy she had a very difficult labour. She laboured at home for three days. Her baby was stillborn. The pressure of the baby’s head during the long labour caused an obstetric fistula, leaving Zemzem incontinent. Urine ran down her legs.
Zemzem’s husband was worried about her, but with no access to medical help, there was nothing he could do. He did his best to look after her until he died unexpectedly five years later.
Zemzem was alone.
Unable to support herself and with no family to care for her, Zemzem struggled on in a squalid little hut with only a rough cloth to sleep on. When it rained, the water came flooding in.
Zemzem relied on the compassion of others in her village who occasionally threw her some food. Severely malnourished, she became extremely weak. She could barely fend off the wild animals that came to her hut searching for scraps.
Death is more preferable than such a tragic life. I had tried to commit suicide many times, but I used to be too weak even for that.
Help finally arrived. Hamlin medical staff found Zemzem on a door-to-door search and took her to the Hamlin Fistula Hospital in Metu.
After a month of good nutrition, physiotherapy and care Zemzem was strong enough to have surgery to repair her fistula. After two months of treatment, she was completely dry.
For the first time in 35 years.
Zemzem now lives near the hospital and remains very close to all of the hospital staff.
I used to be a hapless woman thrown to death until those people came to my home and brought me to my current condition. I never imagined it would happen. It is like I am born new. Thank you all. What else can I say? Zemzem
Photo by Amber Hooper