When I walk down the long corridor of the Galmi Maternity ward in the morning, it’s normal to stop to greet staff members and patients’ relatives along the way. Sannu likita, ina kwana? Yauwa, lahiya lau. An tashi lahiya? I have to pay attention carefully to make sure my morning brain responds in the right way.
Each morning I wonder which empty beds I will see when I reach the end of the corridor. On the right is the special care nursery, and on the left is the intensive care unit. In these two rooms the Galmi staff care for the sickest women and babies that I have ever encountered, with resources that are much more limited than what I’m accustomed to, and with no option to transfer patients to a bigger and fancier hospital.
One morning, I glanced in to the nursery. Last evening there was a baby in the incubator there, fighting a pneumonia that would not relent despite our strongest antibiotics. The cot was empty now. Perhaps… could he have made an astonishing recovery, turning the corner enough to be snuggled now with his mother, breastfeeding happily.
I asked the midwife quietly as I walked into the staff station. “Décédé” she replies in French. It’s a word I have been hearing a lot.
Some people ask how I can manage with so much sadness and death at Galmi. I find that question hard to answer. Why should I find it difficult to deal with the sadness of tragic situations here, when after only two short months I will be retreating back to comfortable life in Australia? Why should I dwell on my own response when I’m not the one who has lost a child, a wife, a mother.
I could share so many stories about mothers, babies, and children who died before their time. And I do feel sad each time. I’m sure the sadness accumulates like a heavy burden for those who live and work here long term.
Another empty bed. I was so shocked when I heard the news. This young mother’s first baby was still-born about ten days before. She had been stuck on the ward afterwards, with anaemia that was frustratingly slow to respond to blood transfusions and a fever that wouldn’t settle despite antibiotics. Just that morning she had been in tears, feeling fine and desperate to go home. But as I came past the ward that afternoon, her bed was empty. The midwives confirmed the news – she had suddenly become short of breath then died minutes later.
I talked to a Muslim staff member about this afterwards, sharing my shock that this woman had died so suddenly. He too was sad, but explained that for Muslims death is not a surprise. He told me that we never know the time when God’s will is for us to leave this earth.
I believe in a God who grieves for this world that is not right. A world where inequality means that women and children die preventable deaths every day in so many countries like Niger. This is not the way God planned the world to be.
I know that each person who leaves behind an empty bed is precious to God.