My patient in bed 6 had waited most of the afternoon to go home. She was from the interior and had been transported to Monrovia on a plane by the red cross. A Liberian social worker from the Red Cross was picking up three of our discharged VVF ladies as well as bringing two new patients.
Matilda, one of our translators, and I had gone through the discharge instructions with her at lunch time and explained the paperwork she was going home with. Now she just had to wait.
Around 4:30 I noticed a foul stench invading our ward. I was obtaining a set of vital signs and my back was turned away from the wards entrance, so I did not notice the three women who had entered the ward.
As I stood up to grab my patients chart and write down her vitals signs the stench became extremely potent. I looked up and saw a 4’10 Liberian lady standing in front of the bed next to me. She was what my nose had been smelling. Presumably, she was one of our new patients.
I then noticed a tall woman wearing a red cross ID and a second Liberian women standing by the ward’s entrance. The Red Cross had finally arrived. Our discharged patients would be going home and our two new patients would be getting surgery.
While the woman from the Red Cross was discussing details with our charge nurse, another nurse fetched gowns for the ladies to change into. Both ladies smelled of dried urine. It was an ardorus stench that surrounded them like a muddy cloud and saturated the airwaves. A large, 2 foot puddle occupied the back of each women’s skirt. They were both asking for pads along with their gowns.
Our VVF ladies are outcasts in their societies. We describe them as “leaking” but I do not think that leaking is a strong enough word. It makes me think of spilling a few drops of water when carrying a full bucket. But that’s not when these women experience. They are sieves. A few drops did not spill from the top of the bucket. The entire bucket was dumped out. They smell and they are wet. Even if they had money to buy pads (which they don’t) they would have no place to buy them from. Instead, they try soak up the wetness with pieces of old cloth, which is highly ineffective. Sometimes they try to stop the urine by shoving rocks into their vaginal area.
Because of their physical condition they are outcasted from society. Many tell us they have no friends. No one ever touches them. Their husbands generally leave as soon as this condition is developed.
The idea of out casting these woman sounds a bit barbaric. A bit inhuman. We would never outcast someone in America for a physical abnormality.
We don’t pressure people to be thin. We don’t call kids with glasses “Four eyes”. If we were to meet a homeless person in a store that carried a foul stench we would treat them with the same respect we treat our brother or sister with.
We would never stereotype someone by the way they were dressed. We would never think ourselves better then someone because we were more educated or had a higher paying job. We would never respect someone more or less based on the car they drive.
In America, a husband would never leave his wife and children because his wife was constantly leaking urine and always smelled terrible. He’d have a better reason. Like that he didn’t love her anymore.
I’m glad our society is not so superficial.
The stories these women share are heartbreaking. We can easily pick out their landmarks of pain. But it is an arrogant thought to think that we’d treat them any better if they were living amongst us in the western world.
We’ve outcasted people for much less.