Sometime last month, I got a call from a friend. We talked for about two minutes, mainly exchanging pleasantries, asking how the other’s daughter was doing and giggling intermittently, because somehow, we were both fascinated by our unique relationship. I met this friend about a year and four months ago, on the first floor general ward of the Maternity Department, Korle Bu Teaching Hospital. It was the second time we had spoken on phone since we parted ways at the hospital. The other time we had talked was via Whatsapp chat where we exchanged pictures of our daughters, showing how much they’d grown. That day, after I hung up, I knew we’d be checking on each other for years to come. The relationship we have has a deep fineness to it that I will attempt to share in this write-up.
One dawn, sometime in mid-January of 2019, I was wheeled into this ward I speak of, my urethra throbbing from being bruised by the catheter that had been fitted. I had spent the night before that in the emergency ward. My ass-cheeks were also still smarting from the injections I had been given which had spread such intense heat through me that I eyed the nurse who I think was either not sure what “a little” means when she said “you will feel “A LITTLE” heat, or she had never had to take that kind of injection so she couldn’t have rightly warned me. As for the back of both my hands, the sight of them could tell anyone what they had suffered. I think that was the first time a grey cannula had ever been used on me, and I have had my very good share of cannulas. Also, that was the first time ever trying to find an IV line made me cry. Anyway, I think anyone would cry if they had to endure pricks and attempts to adjust a cannula while it is in your flesh, with massive waves of uterine contractions hitting you in short intervals. That said, grey cannulas in particular, were invented by Satan.
When I was wheeled into the ward, the first thing I noticed was a woman virtually naked, but for a green slip of cloth she held against her chest. She was sitting on the edge of her bed, and behind her was a tiny baby wrapped in another green cloth. It was hard for me to focus on much but she immediately caught my attention. Between her bed, and the one after that which was also occupied, was an empty, freshly-laid bed. I was wheeled there, helped onto it, and I laid down. My “delivery bag” was placed under my bed, along with other stuff that was placed where they needed to be in my space. The male nurse who brought me left and I turned slowly to my side, facing this woman who had caught my attention. It was almost 4am, and aside one other woman who will come in the picture later, she was the only one awake. She was looking up at nothing, and I was looking at her. She had IV medication hooked, she’d occasionally doze off and will be startled awake when her head met her shoulder. There was nothing in her space. No bag, no toiletries…nothing. Her baby was fast asleep. She moved slightly, and the green cloth shifted. I saw the patch of brown plaster across her abdomen. Why was this woman sitting so uncomfortably at the edge of that bed, clearly exhausted, but not wanting to lie down? It was quite chilly. Why was she not covering up more? But there was nothing in her space, you see? I was not sure what to ask her, so I managed to reach down into my bag, and I pulled out one of the 6 old 2-yard cloths the delivery list had asked for. I held it out to her and she shook her head. I kept my hand stretched out, still not saying anything. “I will soil it,” she said in Twi. “I can’t give it back once it is soiled.” I assured her the cloth was hers now, and stretched my hand closer to her. She took it, stood up, wrapped it around her, and sat back down. That was when I realized the other problem. I reached back down and rummaged for a while before finding what I was looking for – a disposable bed mat. This time, she took it without protest, laid it on her bed, and stretched out. She was asleep in minutes, and I could not stop looking at her, my heart beating fast.
That was the first of 15 days spent in that ward, during which I connected with four other women. Woman 1 slept till it was visiting time later that morning. The few days that followed till she was discharged, I learnt she was 32, that the baby boy beside her was her 7th child, that that was the only child she had had to have in a hospital because having him at home like she had done for all the others had gone wrong and she had ended up needing emergency CS. I learnt that the fact that she had come in as an emergency was not the reason why she had nothing…she had nothing irrespective. I learnt that her husband was an asshole, and not from her mouth, No. I learnt that from overhearing him when he came to visit on day 3, holding a small black poly bag that contained a single sachet of This Way Chocolate Drink. He did not stammer when he complained bitterly about how each child came to him for not less than 5cedis a day before heading for school, and how at that rate he was expecting that this woman who could have died having his 7th child, needed to go right back to trading, immediately, once she was discharged. He did not bother asking how come she had a cup and bowl and a box of fruit juice next to her although aside him, no one else but her eldest daughter (who had brought some clothes for the baby and some money she had called her earlier to go take from someone who appeared to be a debtor) had visited, and none of them had brought such things. He didn’t bother asking her about the cloth she had over the dress she was wearing by then (which she had bought right there in the ward from women who passed through to hawk them). What he bothered to do though was to come in (empty-handed again) with a friend whose next comment after congratulating her on the baby boy was – “woawo nipa” (you have birthed a human being). He also came empty-handed, by the way. The morning of the day woman 1 was discharged, the reproductive health nurses pooled funds and paid for her implants. They told her it was in her best interest to not have any more kids. They also assured her her husband wouldn’t know about it. I will never forget her and the long hug she gave me when she said goodbye.
Woman 2 was one who also came in needing emergency CS and lost her baby girl. She’d stay up crying, and because food my family usually brought was too much for just me, I’d share with her…encouraging her to eat. She was so sweet, her mother was sweet, her husband was sweet. She introduced me to everyone who came to visit as “the one who gave me the jollof”. The first time I convinced her to eat, it was jollof. When we met again later during post-natal check-up, she ran to hug me and held my daughter so tenderly. She was discharged before I had her so it was her first time meeting her. We exchanged numbers but I unfortunately lost hers. I will never forget her and her gentle smile.
Woman 3 came into the emergency ward the same night as me, but was brought up to the general ward later. She had lost the baby. She was fiery, and we spoke only once, but I will never forget her face and the day she vanished from the ward, her bills unsettled. She never returned.
Woman 4 was the one I spoke to last month. She was the one who filled the bed Woman 1 left. She was the one who stayed longer than I did. She was the one I shared my “robb” with everyday cos we shared something in common – chronic pain. The night before my surgery, when I was having dinner after which I was not to eat anything else except water which I could only have before midnight, and then nothing at all after that, she helped lighten my anxiety. She christened the dinner “last supper” and laughed till there were tears in her eyes, as she warned me to better eat everything, because after that I was not going to be eating such a meal for days to come. She was the one who sat up chatting with me that whole night and clapped excitedly when I was wheeled back into the ward with my daughter the following night. She was the one I prayed with the day I was discharged and told her to better eat all of her “last supper” when it was time.
Woman 5. Oh, Woman 5! She was the one who was also awake aside woman 1 that dawn I was brought in. The nurses called her “class prefect” and she was the one who was asked to tell me how things were ran there in the ward. She was the one who would line up buckets of every one who was asleep when the hot water lady came around, and collect theirs for them. She was the one who would go take the remote control from the nurses’ station when it was time for Akrobeto’s The Real News on UTV, and other telenovelas I did not follow. She was the one who barely slept, never received any visitor, and walked to everyone’s bed to greet and ask how they were doing, every morning. She was the one who, after doctors’ rounds one evening, turned her chair to face the wall, bent her head down and cried. I could tell because her shoulders shook. I walked to her later and asked why. She was reluctant to speak. I told her she was the one who helped me adjust when I first came in there, and although we had never spoken much beyond the morning small talks, I found her presence comforting, and I was sure everyone else in the ward did too. That was when the dam broke. It turned out she needed to buy test strips to track her blood sugar levels consistently for some days so a decision could be made if she could be discharged. She did not have the money for the strips, and every extra day spent there meant her bill was going up. I was still talking with her when one of the doctors returned and told asked her how much the strips were going to cost. She was going to help her get them, and she did. She couldn’t stop crying by then. About 3 days later, woman 5 was discharged…but she could not go…not until after she settled her bills. She had to leave the ward, and I was not sure where she perched but she came around everyday for some hot water for tea. My husband helped with an amount, but she still stayed on another week or so, before she was able to leave. The day she did, we exchanged contacts. It was not until about 2 months later that we first spoke, and from then, we have kept in touch. We speak on phone at least once every month, consistently. Our conversations are minute-long ones on average…full of thank yous and God bless yous. Like Woman 4, I know for sure that we will continue to stay in touch; one not knowing that much about the other, and not bothered by that because what we know is enough and of such depth that knowing everything else can’t match.
We were all there at such vulnerable times in our lives for both similar and completely different reasons, helping each other even at our weakest moments. We were there, sharing in the life-bringing and deaths too soon; in the wobbly walks to the bathroom to prove that your catheter can now be removed; in the drip-stand-wheeling, and the sudden gush of blood pooling at your feet when you first get out of bed after surgery; all the in-ward strolls from one end to the other, and the passing on of the “class prefectship” from Woman 5, to me, then to Woman 4 when I was leaving. We were there when mothers who had started lactating will stealthily pump milk with their hands into a cup to be spooned up for babies whose mothers were waiting for their first milk – there where your baby starts wailing soon after you start taking a shower but will soon quiet down because someone picked them up and started rocking them back to sleep. We were all there…with so much heart…
too much to forget.