I found myself in a packed labor and delivery ward. When a woman gave birth to an unexpected twin who was not breathing, we had no choice. With virtually no protective gear, two nurses I’d brought with me jumped in and saved the baby.
We had no way to clean up, because this massive, overcrowded hospital in Ethiopia hadn’t had water in six weeks. We left covered with blood. The operating room, as well as the labor and delivery room, were cleaned with a single cup of water from one of the containers that had to be trucked in. We returned to our hotel and used the trickle coming from the shower to clean up, and we felt lucky to have it.
I grew up in remote Ethiopia. My strongest memory comes from when I was in the third grade. My dad had been a missionary and engineer with the Presbyterian Church. In his spare time, he’d work in the rural health clinic. We left in 1973.
I did not return again until 2008, this time with my elderly father and a newly minted medical degree in internal medicine and dermatology. The remote areas I remembered from my youth were still desperately poor with little infrastructure. I was particularly dismayed to see that women’s health remained among the greatest needs. Women continued to give birth at home. When I asked what happened when they encountered trouble, one medical provider turned away, clearly ashamed, as he said, “They die.” It was as simple as that. I felt like things had moved backwards.