Alone and ashamed with fistulas
May 20, 2003 9:32 AM   Subscribe

Nicholas Kristof wrote this article
  about this woman
    who founded this hospital
      which treats this condition, which is so awful...
posted by languagehat (27 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
...Dr. Hamlin calls them "the women most to be pitied in the world."

From Kristof's article (sorry, this is unpleasant reading, skip it if you're about to have lunch):
Dr. Catherine Hamlin, 79, is an Australian gynecologist who has spent the last 44 years in Addis Ababa, quietly toiling in impossible conditions to achieve the unimaginable. She has helped 24,000 women overcome obstetric fistulas, a condition almost unknown in the West but indescribably hideous for millions of sufferers in the poorest countries in the world.

It typically occurs when a teenage girl cannot deliver a baby because it is too big for her pelvis. After several days of labor without access to a doctor, the baby dies and the girl is left with a hole between her bladder, vagina and sometimes rectum. The result is that urine and sometimes feces drip constantly down her legs. In some cases, she is also left lame from nerve damage.

Women with fistulas stink and leave a trail of urine behind them. They are often abandoned by their husbands and driven out by other villagers....

Dr. Hamlin's hospital treats 2,500 women annually in Ethiopia, but each year 8,500 Ethiopian women develop new fistulas. In Nigeria, the Ministry of Women's Affairs estimates that some 800,000 women have unrepaired fistulas. In most countries, no one bothers to estimate the number of sufferers.

"These are the women most to be pitied in the world," said Dr. Hamlin. "They're alone in the world, ashamed of their injuries. For lepers, or AIDS victims, there are organizations that help. But nobody knows about these women or helps them."
There's more from Kristof about the woman and her story here.

I posted this because it was something interesting I found on the web that I had never heard of and thought most MeFites wouldn't have heard of. I realize MeFi is not a public service bulletin board. But the effect of reading the article was so powerful that I immediately went to the Network for Good site and donated. Just sayin'.
posted by languagehat at 9:33 AM on May 20, 2003

Wow. I know where I am sending my donations next... the 34 million drive.
Good god. I really cannot imagine the horrors women of the world go though. I cannot imagine the indignities and terrors women must live though everyday. I am so lucky, so lucky indeed.
Dr. Hamlin does deserve the Nobel Peace Prize. Amazing.
posted by aacheson at 9:39 AM on May 20, 2003

Excellent post, languagehat. Thank you. They get support from me as well.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 9:49 AM on May 20, 2003

languagehat made this great post
  and it was so informative on
   a very troubling situation that
    most are unaware of that even
     cold-hearted quonsar felt compelled to go
      immediately to the donation site and almost forgot all about snarking on the inventive formatting.
posted by quonsar at 10:12 AM on May 20, 2003

just almost though. great post. *shivers after reading*
posted by dabitch at 10:18 AM on May 20, 2003

Languagehat, thank you very much. I have joined the ranks of aacheson, foldy & quonsar (eek!) and donated. I hope she does win the Nobel prize for the money and recognition and publicity - she richly deserves it.
posted by widdershins at 10:24 AM on May 20, 2003

Wow. I feel so blessed that I had access to good doctors and a surgery when I had my baby. Color me as one of the donators too.
posted by dejah420 at 11:00 AM on May 20, 2003

This needs a lot more publicity. Good post, languagehat.
posted by Hildago at 11:12 AM on May 20, 2003

great post, and a great link to the UN program site...the money raised will support not only the efforts of Dr. Hamlin, but similar reproductive health campaigns, for maternal care, HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention, and more all over the world...of the current administration's many (in my view) screw-ups, the de-funding of UNFPA is possibly the most so many other problems in the developing world, if Americans were suffering this way (not like there isn't any suffering here either, but...) wouldn't we put a stop to it? i sent them some money, but i don't feel much better...
posted by serafinapekkala at 11:13 AM on May 20, 2003

Here's an article about Jane Roberts and Lois Abraham, the founders of 34 Million Friends.
posted by homunculus at 11:28 AM on May 20, 2003

Sometimes everything - something interesting, something worthy, something uplifting, form serving content - just comes together beautifully, as it did in this post. Thanks, languagehat, for this lesson in usefulness and sheer posting intelligence.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 11:29 AM on May 20, 2003

I heard about this via email this morning, and put aside my usual indifference long enough to donate here and also here.
posted by O9scar at 11:31 AM on May 20, 2003

Bloody hell.

Bookmarking for reading at more prosperous time.

Miguel: what are your feelings?
posted by dash_slot- at 11:46 AM on May 20, 2003

Vagino-rectal fistulas are also common in the USA, often a result of inappropriate medical care. This just happened to a friend of mine when her OB gave her a surprise episiotomy while she was delivering her baby. (I call it a surprise because he didn't talk to her, her husband, or her other coach in the room before doing it.)

While not nearly as terrible as it is in the less-developed world, the condition is unecessarily common in the first world, and is often not treated properly when it occurs.
posted by alms at 1:02 PM on May 20, 2003

Gah, while I keep feeling that I didn't need to read something like that today, I guess there is never a time when you want to see something like that. It is a condition I've never heard of nor seen.

Great, if disturbing, post. Truly lets us know how much more needs to be done.
posted by Plunge at 1:17 PM on May 20, 2003 [1 favorite]

The article says that "Americans haven't commonly suffered fistulas since the 19th century." While this may be true of obstetric fistulas, other types of fistulas occur in a signficant percentage of patients with Crohn's Disease or ulcerative colitis (which afflict two million people in America alone).

That said, I have the highest respect for doctors who do this kind of work. Thanks for posting this, languagehat!
posted by Songdog at 1:18 PM on May 20, 2003 [1 favorite]

Thanks, everyone, for the kind words, and special thanks to those who donated. (And extra-special thanks to quonsar for snarking so gently. I'm not normally concerned with design when I post, but I wanted it to stand out somehow so people would pay attention.)

...while I keep feeling that I didn't need to read something like that today, I guess there is never a time when you want to see something like that.

I know what you mean; that's exactly how I felt when I read the Kristof article.
posted by languagehat at 1:32 PM on May 20, 2003

Wow, I appreciate this post languagehat - I never heard of this ghastly condition before, or the work of this wonderful doctor. This post sure puts some things in perspective. I thought I was having a bad day, but I guess not really.
posted by madamjujujive at 3:52 PM on May 20, 2003

As if women do not have to suffer enough through childbirth as it is. The article deals with the way these women are shunned in Ethiopia, but don't think for a moment that they would not be equally shunned in any western country, if not more so. It lifts my heart to see people working for others so selflessly and makes me despair for the human race a tiny bit less. Puts my problems in perspective a bit, too.
posted by dg at 3:54 PM on May 20, 2003

Ouch. That was really shocking. Thanks for enlightening us, languagehat.
posted by kchristidis at 3:57 PM on May 20, 2003

I can only think of how it feels to kind of have the flu, when you constantly feel a bit sub-human and incapable of dealing with the world and your nose is always running and you just feel skank. And then I times that by a million, and then I imagine knowing that I'd have it for the rest of my life.

Sorry to put it in so trivial terms. It's just... horrible.
posted by guy_parsons at 4:20 PM on May 20, 2003

I'm horrified - I, too, had never heard of this condition. I haven't clicked on a donation site that fast in a long time.
posted by FormlessOne at 6:11 PM on May 20, 2003

Eek. I did not know that. Time to whip out the checkbook...
posted by Soliloquy at 9:07 PM on May 20, 2003

!!! [all my comments have been covered already] except - Languagehat=bigheart
posted by troutfishing at 9:45 PM on May 20, 2003

Thanks for a great post for a good cause, languagehat.
posted by hama7 at 3:27 AM on May 21, 2003

You know, someone on another list I'm on posted a link to the Kristof article two days ago - and I deleted it. I feel like a jackass, but the 34 million campaign is $10 closer, and only two days late. I keep thinking about that "touch one thing and you'll find it's connected to everything else in the universe" quote. I feel like that right now. Thanks, languagehat. It's a good feeling.
posted by deliriouscool at 12:38 PM on May 21, 2003

I'm sure the original Kristof article is very interesting, but I'll be damned if I'm going to pay the New York Times US$2.95 to read the piece. Instead, a few more bucks to the Fistula Hospital seems a better way to spend my money.
posted by eptitude at 8:16 AM on May 25, 2003

« Older Gasp!   |   Goodbye, chosen one Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments