*i have changed the name of the woman I wrote about just to give some privacy where its due. I have blurred out her eyes for the same reason.
Once the large masses of pregnant women get their bellies measured and babies’ heartbeats heard, it tends to slow down a bit in the antenatal ward. That’s where I was posted with 4 students on the day I met Fiona. When there’s not too much work to be done (and even sometimes where there is) I like to take time to just visit the patients, sit with them, pray for them, and be their friend. The aim is to be a blessing, but the majority of the time I think I walk away more blessed by them. African women are so sweet and kind. And they make me laugh.
Most of the women who are admitted to the antenatal ward are there because they have some type of serious problem affecting their pregnancy. The beds are lined up and the women admitted into them are piled on top of one another.
There’s never a shortage of prayers to be prayed or conversations to be had.
On this day, my attention was somehow drawn to a little side room with only two beds. When I walked in I saw a young women lying down tied to her bed.
This wasn’t what had my attention though.
It was the putrid smell that was thick in the air that had the strange effect of both repulsing me drawing and me in all at the same time.
It didn’t take long for me to locate the culprit.
Across from the woman who tied down to her bed I saw Fiona. Fiona’s breaths were heavy and labored, as if she would take her last one at any moment. Her extremely frail body was contorted into such a way that you would think she was in the midst of an exorcism. The tumors around her face and neck were painful to even look at.
I was sure in my mind she must have been both mentally and physically disabled and probably would have no idea I was even there.
But I knew I needed acknowledge her presence. I drew near to her face to say hello and I stroked the top of her head. She smiled the most beautiful smile. It was then I realized it wasn’t a mental disability that subjected her to her bed.
Fiona was diagnosed with AIDS
And several other opportunistic infections.
As if this list from the pit of hell couldn’t get any worse, I quickly found out that not only is Fiona dying, but, she is only 20 years old and just so happens to be 24 weeks pregnant. While she couldn’t have weighed more than 90 pounds, there below her protruding chest bones was a little tiny baby bump.
These are those gut-wrenching scenarios that always presents with a lot of “whys” and rarely have a lot of explanation.
Fiona cannot speak English, but even if she had been able to communicate with me-the grapefruit sized tumors around her face and neck robbed her of that opportunity.
It was in that moment my heart adopted Fiona. I was locked in. Connected. And committed to her case.
I, along with several other members from my team, committed to visiting this sweet girl as often as possible. The prognosis wasn’t good, but the prayers we prayed were fervent. And I had hope for her case. Often I would bring in the Doppler, which is a small machine that allows both of us to listen to the baby’s heart. We would hear it and both smile. Inside, I would let out a huge sigh of relief. I often feared for the life of her unborn child, and rightfully so -she was barely keeping herself alive, let alone the little on inside of her.
Some days Fiona was so sick and fragile I feared her last breath to be eminent. And then some days I would find her walking (slowly of course) in the hallway coming from a shower. She seemed to being doing okay.
I tried to get some background information on her, but it always proved to be impossible. Doctors weren’t around. Nurses weren’t aware. Fiona was a great mystery to me. If it weren’t for the ghostwriter in her medical file, I would have never known anything about this girl who had become my friend. Somewhere in the thick pages of her case, I read that she was scheduled for a c-section in a couple weeks. I made a mental note of the date and ensured myself I’d be there for the surgery.
Then that fretful day came where I went into her room and she wasn’t there. I frantically asked around to find out where she had be taken.
She was in labor.
I rushed to the Special Observation Unit where I found her in one of the worst conditions I’d ever seen.
Her body can’t handle the agony of contractions. This woman has nothing left to give. How will she even push?
Doctors were in and out of the room. They were incredibly concerned about her case. I was informed that the condition of her blood was so poor that while it was better for her to have a c-section because of her conditions, it would not be possible. Fiona’s blood was too weak and she lacked the ability for her blood to properly clot after the birth if they cut her open. With a c-section she would surely bleed to death. If she delivered, she could also bleed to death, but with only a leap of faith, the doctors chose the lesser of the two evils.
“She needs prayer.”
I think I told every healthcare worker that came in to see her. And everyone just nodded in agreement. Countless times we were told, “she won’t survive the delivery.” Without a doubt her prognosis was death. There was a greater possibility for the baby to survive (now at around 30 weeks gestation) but the mother had little hope.
Or at least that is what I was told.
I knew I couldn’t leave her side until the baby was born. Someone had to be there to intercede. So I began to monitor her labor. I, along with a couple of the students took on the role of being her midwife. But she needed much more than midwifery care. She needed a miracle. So we stayed with her. We prayed, interceded, counted contractions, read scripture, changed her diaper, played worship music, took her vitals, listened to her baby’s heart rate, laughed a little, prayed some more and this cycle went on and on. The hours came and went and the labor barely progressed. With each passing moment Fiona loss more and more energy. All we could do was pray.
Several doctors and midwives came and went, often both touched and perplexed by our commitment to this one patient. In our time glued to Fiona’s bedside, we had several opportunities to speak with these doctors about God’s heart and His value for life and how necessary it is to depend on Him in our practice, because after all, He is the greatest Physician.
After about 11 hours with her, a couple other people from the team took over from us to watch her throughout the night and did the same thing.
Our team never left Fiona’s side.
When the morning came, we made our way back to the hospital. Felt like I never left. She had dilated a couple more centimeters in the night, but wasn’t near ready to deliver.
The pain began to be unbearable for her and there wasn’t much we could do. The crew that stayed overnight had been there for over 12 hours (after already working a shift in the day) but they were prepared to stay even longer should it be necessary.
But before we knew it (and much sooner than we expected) Fiona was ready to deliver.
To say she was “weak,” would be a grand understatement. While her baby was estimated to weigh only around 3 pounds, she didn’t have the strength to push the little one out.
|A couple hours after her birth|
All hands were on board to prepare for a massive hemorrhage for Fiona. But an amazing thing happened. She barely bled. Within minutes she was stable, cleaned up, wrapped up and recovering from her delivery.
|Fiona's grandmother, thanks Grace with a big hug|
There is no medical explanation as to why both her and her baby did so well for this delivery. All fingers point to the God who heals and gives life, and answers prayers.
I feel blessed to be apart of seeing life when all that can be anticipated is death. Fiona has a beautiful baby girl that we named Evelyn, which means life.
A week after Fiona’s delivery I was able to wheel her up to the NICU so that she could both meet and hold her baby girl for the first time. What a special moment. Because she had tuberculosis, she wasn’t able to stay in the ward long. But Fiona starred at her daughter and knew she was okay.
Fiona made the decision to sign the baby over to social welfare. Her mother had died of AIDS when she was just a child and she didn’t want her baby to watch her suffer. The baby was left for several weeks in the NICU. Just a tiny thing. She needed to be fed and held and loved and our team was more than willing to do all those things for her. What she needed most though, was a mommy.
Fiona was growing stronger. She seemed to even be putting on weight. Her condition was the best I had ever seen. And then one day, when I showed up to visit her she was gone. She had been discharged and would only be coming in to start receiving her chemotherapy. I felt so much hope for this hopeless case. God had done a miracle in her life already and now she seemed to be doing so much better. I knew chemotherapy would take a toll on her body, but somewhere in my mind I imaged her being totally healed and taking baby Evelyn back into her home to care for her.
However, on Tuesday I got news the Fiona had died.
I am still shocked to hear the news and I have no understanding of what happened. I’m just reminded that she did after all have AIDS and cancer. And while she seemed to be getting better, I know that with such conditions things can take a turn for the worst quickly.
I grieve the loss of this sweet young woman. I thank God that I was able to meet her and intercede for her. She was and still is a miracle. I am grateful to God that I can be certain that she labored in dignity. She was cared for and loved by the love of the Father and my hope is that even though we weren’t there for her death, she would have still breathed her last breath in dignity as well.
Evelyn has been placed in a home for babies. I just so happened to be at this home when she arrived from the hospital. I was able to give her her first bath and first little outfit she ever had. She’s just still weighing about 3 pounds but she is a beautiful baby girl. Her blood tests have revealed her to be negative for HIV, which is just another one of the many miracles she is associated with. I have prayed countless prayers over this little child. She may never know the fight that was over her life. She wont know the many times she was fed and held and nurtured by foreign strangers who prayed prayers of hope for her but may her life always be anointed. I truly have faith that it will be.