Recovering With Love
14 August, 2020
Etagegn’s story is one of heartbreaking lows and hopeful highs: from a remote village near Limmu in the Oromiya Region, to the agony of obstetric fistula, to the optimism of a life restored.
Opportunity cut short
Etagegn is the only child in a family of farmers; as such, her circumstances provided her opportunities and obligations. Unlike most girls her age, Etagegn was lucky enough to be afforded the luxury of an education. Tragically, Etagegn’s childhood was cut short by the death of her father.
As a consequence of the loss of her father, Etagegn had to grow up quick. She had to drop out of school when she was in Year 7 and support her mother. “My father was the head of our house and for me and my mum his death made life difficult. I left school and married at the age of 20,” Etagegn recalls.
Married life was no easier for Etagegn. She and her husband did not have any land to farm nor money. They decided to migrate to Addis Ababa in search of work. For two difficult years, Etagegn and her husband struggled on a day to day basis: some days they would go to sleep hungry, other days they would not be able to find work.
During this time, Etagegn became pregnant. She chose to return to her remote village to deliver the baby at her mother’s place. Like so many women in her village, Etagegn never visited a clinic during her pregnancy; the closest clinic was in the market town, a four hour walk away. Unable to walk four hours in her condition, Etagegn planned on delivering her child at home with an untrained birth attendant from the village.
The agony of fistula
Etagegn and her mother were excited to welcome her newborn child, yet her labour was protracted and painful. Etagegn’s obstructed labour drained her causing her worried family to carry her on a homemade stretcher to the closest clinic.
Tragically, Etagegn delivered a stillborn baby at the clinic. Etagegn returned home, grieving for her child. Her pain was compounded by the realisation that she had suffered an obstetric fistula injury. Unable to move her leg properly and incontinent, Etagegn was distraught: “That was the most shameful moment in my life. I wished I could die, rather than live in shame. I became completely hopeless.”
Etagegn was ostracised by her community; her husband abandoned her and she was isolated, with no social interaction. Struggling and in agony, Etagegn finally decide to leave her village in search of help. “One morning I went out and started the desperate journey towards the big town of Jimma. When I reached the town, I met a very kind doctor who owns a clinic. He diagnosed my case and directed me to this hospital. He let me stay the night at his home, gave me money for transportation and even walked me to the bus station in the morning,” Etagegn recalls.
Recovering with love
When Etagegn arrived at Addis Ababa, she was sceptical that there was a cure for her; that changed when she saw the facilities at Hamlin. “I didn’t believe that there would be a cure for me until I reached this hospital and saw the amazing holistic care for many women like myself,” says Etagegn.
Etagegn underwent a fistula repair surgery that was extremely promising: the nurses at the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital were expecting a full recovery and for Etagegn to be completely dry after she recovered from her surgery.
The principles of the Hamlin Model of Care framed the treatment that Etagegn received during her time at Hamlin. Etagegn was amazed by the quality of care afforded her even in the midst of a pandemic: “Here everything is so different. The nurses and doctors treat me with love, I am served with delicious, nutritious meals. I do physical exercise at the physiotherapy centre, learn how to make crafts and surprisingly all these services are totally free.”
Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia’s nurses, nursing aids and the entire staff continue to provide quality care for vulnerable women suffering from obstetric fistula, regardless of the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic. Taking precautionary protective measures has not stopped the Hamlin Team from providing the care that patients need. “I learned, from previous patients who came back for follow-ups, that the whole service at the hospital remains the same even during the current coronavirus pandemic,” says Etagegn.
Despite the many challenges that she has had to overcome, Etagegn’s future, free of fistula and open to opportunity, looks optimistic. Thanks to the supporters of the Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation, more women like Etagegn can also have their futures reshaped.
Click here to learn how you can help vulnerable women like Etagegn, and eradicate fistula. Forever.