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Believe Me: This is the true Christmas Spirit!

22 December, 2012

I have just finished reading one of those books everyone should read in their lifetime. Of course it will make you feel fantastically inadequate and pathetic when you whinge about your life and what isn’t quite right about it, but a book that basically should be compulsory reading for everyone.

It’s called ‘A Hospital by the River’ by Dr Catherine Hamlin.  I acquired it recently when I went to an afternoon fund-raising cocktail party hosted by Dr Barbara Hall, who is a Brisbane Gynaecologist, who next year is going on her first visit to Africa to help the women over there with prolapse repair surgery. She was inspired to go there by Dr Judith Goh, OA, who together with Dr Hannah Krause, travels to various regions in Africa to undertake fistula repair surgery regularly every year, entirely self- funded or funded by HADA, a Health and Development Aid Abroad Australia Fund Inc.

I wrote an earlier blog about Judith and Hannah’s inspiring work last year. While we all get excited about our holidays to the beach (love you Noosa) or Melbourne for the tennis, this altruistic pair sign off from their (fantastically busy) private practices to jump on the next plane to a far-flung area in Africa to do more of what they do all year- operate on women to improve their continence state.

A Hospital by the River’ is a wonderful book with stories about the life of Drs Reg and Catherine Hamlin, basically two saints who have worked their whole lives in Addis Ababa, operating on women suffering with a birth injury called a fistula. This means the bladder or rectum has lacerated during birth, with the baby dying during the protracted labour, and causing incontinence of urine and maybe faeces, which then requires complex surgery to achieve continence with bladder and bowel function.

It’s a book which will inspire you, will definitely make you cry and also makes you cringe as we come into the Christmas period, where extravagance of spending is very evident. It costs only $300 to operate on each one of these girls and completely transform their lives from one of misery and being ostracised from their community because of their (urine/faeces) odour, to one of joy and happiness at once again being dry and clean. This small amount of money, that we could blow in one dinner out for the family or one night’s accommodation at the beach, is all it costs to save these girls from such a shocking life sentence. And yet these two amazing doctors have had to fundraise every cent over many years to do their amazing work.

Dr Reg Hamlin died in 1993, but at the age of 88 Catherine still is actively involved in work at the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital. Working solely in the area of continence promotion, allows me to see many women who deal with the inconvenience and misery of incontinence. But In Australia we can access assistance from health professionals whose specialty is continence management and easily purchase continence pads for incontinence that doesn’t respond to treatment.

I cannot comprehend what it would be like to have your lack of control so vividly exposed to your family and community, to lose your baby in childbirth, risk dying yourself in the process and then be rejected by your husband into the bargain. I encourage you all to purchase the book for yourself, for a friend or relative and become aware of the amazing work of doctors like Catherine Hamlin, Judith Goh and Hannah Krause and in the process contribute, what to us is a pittance, in order to transform the life of a desperate woman.

I repeat, the true spirit of Christmas.

2 Comments
  1. Hearing about fistula in 3rd world countries is heartbreaking. I can’t bear to think about it, mainly because of the fact that their precious little baby dies, but also of course because of lasting humiliation, pain and suffering these poor women go through. Nothing like this would happen here in Australia where we have such a wonderful health system. People complain about our health system but at least we don’t have problems like fistula!

  2. Yes Amanda it’s a tragic read- definitely need tissues handy. I have updated the blog with a link to HADA where readers can go to donate money for these amazing projects. To donate to the one that supports the work of Prof Judith Goh OA and Dr Hannah Krause look for Medical Training in Africa and that money will go directly to Fistula projects. As for the babies dying through labour- the suffering of these women- it’s unimaginable. Give your babies an extra hug tonight!

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