~ By guest blogger and photographer, Charlie Ainslie
So, it was my first surgery ever, and I thought I was literally going to pass out. But I got in there, and it was a lot different than I thought it was going to be. I don’t think anyone could have prepared me for what I was going to see. In 6 hours, it was more intense and less intense, scarier and more natural than I had ever expected. It was a total roller coaster of emotions. What I thought would make me queasy completely enthralled me, and what I thought would be simple to watch (sutures, and stitching up the patient), really made my stomach turn.
The one element of the surgery that I loved most was watching Dr. Mabeya do something that only takes a few hours, but completely changes the lives of these women, and he does it with such grace and dignity. He’s so humble, which I don’t understand, because he’s one of the most extraordinary people I’ve ever met.
Dr. Mabeya prepares Joy for surgery.
The surgery I got to watch was on a woman named Joy. Joy is 60 years old and has had fistula since 1982. She’s probably 4’10”, 90 pounds, really little. They rolled her into the operating room, and she didn’t look scared or nervous, just ready. I had no idea she would be awake the whole time, because they were going to be giving her regional anesthesia from the waist down. This made me a little anxious because I was going to be taking photos of her the whole time. As a photographer, my clients are always awake, but there was some relief thinking she would be asleep, so that if I got uncomfortable, or had to take a break, I wouldn’t make her uncomfortable. Little did I know, Joy being awake, not only helped my nerves, but brought her some comfort too, and created an experience with her that I will have for the rest of my life.
As much as I’d like to say I held it together the whole time and didn’t flinch once, there were moments, where I thought I was going to pass out. The few times…ok, the many times this happened, I thought it would be a good idea to go check on Joy, give her a few smiles and take some photos. I so badly wanted to reach out and grab her hand and let her know that I was in this with her. However, I didn’t know her comfort level, and the language barrier made it difficult. Instead I just stood by her, and without saying anything, Joy reached her hand over to my arm, placed it right next to me, gave me a smile, and stroked my arm for about ten minutes. I couldn’t tell who was helping whom more. This became my go-to position any time I felt nervous or light headed. I knew after that moment that Joy was someone extremely special, and I was so happy that she was getting treatment at Gynocare. I couldn’t think of a better place for her to be at that moment. I also knew that she would never get rid of me, because I had to check-up on her and make sure she was ok.
The next day we left to do field work for about week, and when we returned to Eldoret, I was happy to find Joy smiling and recovering at Gynocare. She remembered who I was immediately, and I sat down with her in the grass, held her hands, and one of the nurses, Zehara, interpreted how happy I was to see her in good spirits recovering. We took some photos together, which we printed and gave to her the next day, so she could have something to take home with her from our time together. She became my Kenyan grandmother, and I promised to visit her again when I return to Kenya. The next day, as we were leaving for our next destination, we also ran into her Regional Representative, Evans, who had found Joy during his outreach and had sent her to Gynocare for treatment. He was there to make sure she was doing ok. Between her incredible surgeon, amazing caring staff at Gynocare and support from her Regional Representative, I left the facility knowing she was in great hands, and that I would see her one day again, a repaired woman.
Joy and me at Gynocare while she was recovering.