When we moved to Africa to begin practicing medicine, there were several things that I knew I was giving up...some not so hard to say goodbye to (electronic medical records and litigation!), and some, like a wide range of medicines and technology and support services, more so. One sad thing to give up was the idea of patient continuity. I really enjoyed the chance to develop a relationship with a woman during the course of her pregnancy and deliver her baby and even follow up in the subsequent years (of course, residency was only four years long, but I still had some special patients during that time). Here in Burundi, continuity is a challenge. I function primarily as a consultant--I don't do normal pregnancy surveillance and almost never do deliveries except for C-sections. Women come with a problem, I give advice and treatment, and then almost never see them again. When I do, it's a rare gift.
When we returned from the US in 2016, there was a patient waiting for me named Odette. A colleague had done an ultrasound in my absence and found what looked like an abnormal pregnancy. I repeated the ultrasound and found a normally developing pregnancy, her first, but also a huge fibroid, more than 10 centimeters, filling up the lower portion of her uterus. She came back many times in the following seven months for ultrasounds. She rarely spoke but her husband and I conversed often in French. In my head, I continuously ran through all of the potential complications that were awaiting her. But lo and behold, she arrived at term without incident and we delivered a healthy baby boy by C/S. I asked her to come back 6-8 months later and we removed the fibroid. I thought that would be the end of the story and our relationship.
But then again she returned, now in the spring of 2018, with another pregnancy. Her uterus looked perfect, but given the two surgeries, we scheduled another C/S and I performed it just before a scheduled six month in the US. And now, just a few weeks ago, she came with her third pregnancy, already in the final weeks. I performed a C/S on Tuesday and delivered her third and final baby. It was oddly touching to me to be able to safely bring all three of her children into the world. I don't know if she ever realized how remarkable that was. She and her husband don't even live in our health district...they come from another province in the country. So many women never show up for their scheduled surgeries, or labor begins too early and they deliver elsewhere. I take vacations occasionally (!) and spend six months out of the country every few years. But everything lined up perfectly in this case.
I didn't take any pictures...I always feel oddly awkward about taking pictures of my patients...but I will certainly remember the privilege given to me by Odette and her family. It's a small but tangible reminder of God's provision and a giving back gift of grace to me, even of the small things I feel like I've given up for His service.