Fistula Hospital

Today we toured the Fistula Hospital in Addis Ababa, where we had a guided tour given by Ruth Kennedy. She told us about Drs. Reginald and Catherine Hamlin, both gynecologists/obstetricians, who came to Ethiopia in 1959 and were pioneers in performing surgery for women suffering from obstetric fistulas. Dr. Catherine, now a widow, and 83 years old, still performs surgeries with a steady hand, and extends compassion to these girls—she touches, she hugs, she nurses, she bathes, and then she operates. She personifies being the hands and feet of Jesus.

A fistula is caused by unrelieved, prolonged and obstructed labor so that the constant pressure of the baby’s head pressing against the mother’s pelvis causes tissue to die, leaving a hole, or fistula, through which body wastes leak out uncontrollably. These women—many of them very young girls—have been raped or forced into early marriage, and are scarred physically and emotionally. None of them can escape from themselves; they are imprisoned in bodies full of hurts and smells, an offense to those around them and to each other. Some older women have suffered for 40 years. The hardships they have endured cannot be imagined. Yet, the girls we saw were cheerful and friendly and full of smiles, and gave us the traditional Ethiopian kiss or handshake. It is impossible to express the admiration our team felt for these girls. They come from all over Ethiopia, and even from neighboring African countries, and the hospital does not turn anyone away. One 18-year-old son from a remote village carried his mother for hundreds of miles, with her body wastes leaking down his back, to bring her to this hospital.

After surgery, all women discharged from the hospital are given a card with their medical and social history, and information about potential pregnancies. Better yet, they are given hope for the future. One of the hospital’s mottoes is, “May today’s children not know today’s sorrow, as together we build for them a kinder tomorrow.”