The bright blue sky hugs emerald trees as I travel down rough dirt roads lined with mudstone buildings. The locals are going about their daily life; walking along on the roads edge being shared with cows, chickens, goats, motorcycles, and bicycles. It is already busy in Busia District Uganda and the day is just beginning. We are looking for Patricia; a woman who came to Bronze Medical Center the day before bleeding and in pain. An ultra sound showed she was retaining parts of conception after a partial miscarriage. We are riding through the busy roads of Sofia searching for Patricia and her husband. They need help getting to the government hospital so Patricia can have a Manuel Vacuuming Extraction (MVE) to save her life. In the car with me is Dr. Sam Wafula, Director of Bronze Medical Center and my husband Robert Royl who is Chief Medical Officer for Project Hope for Ugandan Women.
After a brief search we located them. Patricia was clinging to her husband stumbling through the dirt street dodging frantic pedestrians and cluttered traffic, barely walking. Robert immediately jumped out of the jeep to assist her husband. They hooked their arms around her body as she let her arm fall around her husband’s neck pressing her weight on him. He stumbled back to brace his footing. I sat in the back of jeep paralyzed with fear. I have no medical training. I have no idea how far we are from the hospital. I only know this woman is dying and she is climbing in the back seat with me. Through the committed strength of both men, Patricia is hoisted up onto the bench seat next to me. There is a moment as she enters the car that our eyes meet and lock. I can see the pain in her eyes. I can feel it in my bones. I open my arms and Patricia collapses into my embrace.
I hold her tight as we travel down the rough roads, hitting one unavoidable pot hole after the other. Her skin is so hot it feels like it is burning mine. I can hear her mumbling in pain and feel her heavy breath on my chest. Her entire body is trembling from pain. I can feel her breathing stop and she becomes dead weight leaning against my body, her skin still on fire. I am helpless in this moment. The heavy breathing and trembling starts again; this continues on and off for the entire 20 minute ride to the hospital. I hold her and whisper in her ear, “It’s going to be ok. You are going to be ok.” But honestly I didn’t know if that was true.
The jeep pulls off the road onto a grassy path that is surrounded by mudstone, freestanding buildings. Everything is chaotic and unorganized. There are women lined up outside and children crying. I can hear a man yelling with anger. We have arrived at the government hospital. Patricia’s husband, Robert, and Sam bail out of the vehicle; Sam is on his phone coordinating with the staff inside, Robert is taking vitals, and her husband is pacing at the front entrance of the hospital. I still have Patricia firmly in my grasp shaking. The men gently remove her from the vehicle on Sam’s command. She again drapes her arms over Robert and her husband’s neck. They lock arms around her waist and the three of them stumble past an endless line of women towards the hospital entrance. I follow behind with Patricia’s sweater, nervous and shaking. We walk into the dimly lit foyer. Women are sitting on hard benches pressed against the wall. Some are crying and some are praying. I can hear that man yelling even louder now. We round the corner towards the triage room and are greeted by a domestic situation. A man is standing over a pregnant woman screaming at her with his finger pointed in her face. She is staring blankly at the ground saying nothing. We push our way past them and lay Patricia down on the exam table. We walk outside and I hand her sweater to her husband who is explaining how much he appreciates our help and that he is scared. I am shaking and can still feel her hot skin against mine. I can still smell the sweat on her skin and remember the look in her eye. I look over my right shoulder and see a USAID poster hanging on a very old tent. The sign is torn and weathered like our commitment to these people. The sky is still bright blue and the trees emerald, but the feel of the day has darkened. Later we learned Patricia needed emergency surgery to live. It would take hours for me to fundraise the money needed and then it would be days before Patricia received the emergency surgery.
In America the condition Patricia was suffering from is very treatable, but it commonly kills in Uganda. Patricia lived because of the collaborative efforts of Bronze Medical, PHFUW, and SCAN; Bronze Medical brings quality health care to remote areas of Busia District, PHFUW organizes the funds to support Bronze Medical so Ugandan women can receive free reproductive health care, while SCAN brings government awareness on the imperative need to secure the foreign aid budget for programs that work.
The US started a campaign in Africa to help combat life threatening health issues and preventable deaths; it is our responsibility to continue that fight. We cannot engage and then walk away. The people of Uganda are passionate, vision driven people with the desire to make their country a place to thrive. They have ideas; they simply need the resources. Please join or continue to fight with SCAN to end maternal mortality by encouraging your elected officials to support the Reach Act.